Don’t Believe the Hype!

Social Security Shouldn't Be Trashed

Volume CV, No. 5May, 2005

Mikael Elsila

What happens when you saw one leg off of a three-legged stool? You fall over! But that’s exactly what President Bush and his team are proposing to do.

The “three-legged stool” is the classic metaphor for how you are supposed to support yourself when you retire. For decades, the “three legs” of the stool referred to Social Security, the pension you received from your job, and whatever private savings you were able to sock away.

Many musicians hope never to retire. With luck, all of us will continue playing music as long as we want to. But for those of us who do want to retire, we need every piece of income possible to make it. Members who played enough union gigs during their careers will have some kind of monthly payout from the AFM pension fund. Other than that, members count on Social Security for some income.

President Bush’s plan sounds simple: allow workers to divert some of their Social Security contributions into private investments.

But Bush’s plan is a sham.

“I am against every single thing Bush stands for, especially scuttling Social Security,” Morris Newman told Allegro. “He’s making a hole in the boat and a lot of people are going to fall through. My monthly Social Security check is at least eight times my AFM pension check. My AFM pension is low because I was playing lots of music before there were a lot of gigs with pension.” Newman is a bassoonist, an honor member, and a member since 1943.

“We don’t feel it’s a good idea to privatize Social Security,” said husband-and-wife musicians Michael Bloom and Barbara Long. “There’s no guarantee. It’s a gamble, just like investing in the stock market. The stock market is volatile – it goes up and down. You may win or lose. We depend on Social Security as well as our AFM pension. Plus we are still working. You shouldn’t gamble with retirement funds.” Bloom is a violist, an honor member, and a member since 1943. Long is a violinist, an honor member, and a member since 1953.

The AFL-CIO has done extensive research on Bush’s plan. What the federation found is that privatizing Social Security would decrease benefits for all workers – not just those who chose private accounts.

On the other hand, privatization would benefit select Wall Street firms whose mission it would be to control these private accounts.

Moreover, the whole rationale for “fixing” Social Security is based on a false premise. Bush and his team say that Social Security is in a crisis and will go bankrupt.

But Social Security has enough money to pay out 100 percent of its obligations for about 42 years.

And there are ways to fix it without privatization. Right now, only the first $90,000 of a worker’s income is taxed for Social Security. That means a CEO making $10 million a year is only taxed on $90,000. Many activists are calling for raising this cap.

Local 802 members are urged to check out the AFL-CIO Web site for the latest facts and figures about Bush’s plan to privatize and erode Social Security. Go to At the top of the page, under “Site Quick Find,” scroll down and select “Social Security.”

Another source of information is a special Web site where people are posting their personal stories of what Social Security means to them. Visit