TALKING IT OVER
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON
February 17, 1999
Like many Americans, I got my Social Security card when I was a teenager and applied for my first job. Then, of course, I didn't think much about what Social Security meant for me or for generations before me. I didn't understand that my wallet-sized card represented a commitment that every American could grow old with dignity.
I also didn't understand that Social Security is not just for the elderly -- and not just for retirement. I didn't know that nearly one-third of its beneficiaries are either disabled, widows, widowers or surviving dependents. Almost 4 million are young people. In a very real sense, Social Security is a family protection system.
When I was a teenager, like many others, I didn't spend much time thinking about my future, much less about my retirement. Today, sadly, when young people do take the time to ponder the future, they have little faith that Social Security will even be there for them when they retire. That's all the more reason for them to get involved in the debate right away.
This week, the President and I held an event here at the White House designed to get everyone thinking about Social Security now.
Social Security has affected the lives of people young and old. One young man from Miami had an incapacitating stroke in his early 30s. Social Security was there to provide disability benefits for his four children, enabling them to grow up healthy and cared for. After the death of her husband, a retired cafeteria worker from Tennessee started receiving his benefits, allowing her to live more comfortably. A 15-year-old girl from Oklahoma lost her mother, and Social Security allowed this young woman to continue on to college, where she's now a sophomore majoring in psychology.
These stories remind us that anyone's life can change overnight and why it is so important to include young people in the discussion. I hope that young women in particular will pay attention. Young women today are making such strides in the workplace, many of them don't think they'll ever need Social Security. But because we never know when something catastrophic will happen, it is especially critical for women to understand that they have a unique stake in the future of the Social Security system.
Women live longer than men, and although many are moving toward pay equity, lifetime earnings for women remain lower, causing them to reach retirement with smaller pensions and other financial assets. For a quarter of all older women, Social Security is the only income they receive -- all that stands between them and destitution. The next time you're in the supermarket or just walking down the street, take a look around. Without Social Security, every other woman you see over the age of 65 would be living below the poverty line.
Clearly, it's in all our interests to preserve and strengthen Social Security into the next century. And if we don't want to burden our children and grandchildren -- if we want to make sure Social Security remains solvent well into the 21st century -- we must make bold decisions now.
The President believes that the best way to keep the promise of Social Security rock-solid is to avoid drastic cuts in benefits, not to raise payroll tax rates and not to drain resources from the system in the name of saving it. Instead, he has proposed committing 62 percent of the budget surplus for the next 15 years to saving Social Security.
I am pleased that some Republican leaders have embraced the President's framework, for this issue is far too important to be sidetracked by partisan politics. If we want to preserve Social Security as a family protection system that we can count on into the next millennium, all our voices must be heard. Republicans and Democrats, men and women, young and old -- all Americans must be an integral part of the public debate.
I hope every American will get involved. I hope you will take the time to educate yourself about how Social Security works and what it can mean to you. I hope you will encourage discussions at home, at work, at church and anywhere you gather.
Don't forget: Your voice matters. As we embark on this critical national debate, make yours heard.
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