Bush: Social Security Shortchanges Black Seniors

Bush says Social Security shortchanges black seniors (LAT – Buffalo News)

Race became a significant factor in the debate over Social Security on Tuesday when President Bush told black leaders that the government retirement program shortchanged blacks, whose relatively shorter life span meant they paid more in payroll taxes than they eventually received in benefits. Bush’s comments came during a private White House meeting with 22 black religious and business leaders who backed his re-election last year – marking a new line of argument in the president’s attempts to win support for adding worker-owned investment accounts to Social Security. The conversation demonstrated the White House’s determination to build on outreach efforts to blacks that proved effective in battleground states last year, adding Social Security to a list of moral issues – such as opposition to same-sex marriage and support for faith-based social programs – that Republicans see as providing common ground with black conservatives.

White House officials did not release a transcript of the hourlong meeting, but several participants said Bush was adamant that his Social Security plan had special appeal to blacks – and that he intended to make that point in public. “He brought to our attention that African-Americans in particular need to understand how Social Security in its present condition affects the African-American community,” said Michelle D. Bernard, senior vice president of the conservative Independent Women’s Forum, a Washington policy group.

Robert L. Woodson, who heads the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, said Bush’s remarks were well-received. “He feels that we need to have some options,” said Woodson, whose organization focuses on community revitalization efforts, largely in low-income areas.

Underscoring the rift among black leaders, the president’s remarks are likely to meet resistance today when members of the all-Democratic Congressional Black Caucus are scheduled to visit the White House. Caucus leaders contend that blacks rely disproportionately on disability and survivors’ benefits paid by Social Security, and that Bush’s changes would jeopardize the entire system – hurting black beneficiaries far more than the private accounts might help them. Furthermore, the White House’s opponents argue, the vagaries of the stock market could leave private-account holders with fewer benefits than the current system guarantees. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush did not support altering the disability-benefits or survivors’-benefits pieces of Social Security – only the retirement benefits.

The point on the racial disparity of Social Security retirement benefits has been made time and again, including by prominent liberal black leaders such as Jesse Jackson. For Bush to co-opt this as a major selling point of his reform effort is simply brilliant. Karl Rove at his finest, one presumes.

Clayton Cramer likes it, too. Michelle Malkin, though, is not amused:

So, the Bush administration thinks it’s okay to use racial profiling to hand out government retirement benefits, but it’s not okay to use racial profiling to prevent terrorists from getting on planes?

Fair enough. Of course, the nature of racial politics has always been that it’s acceptable to point out disparities in one direction (i.e., blacks are underrepresented in elite medical school admissions) but not the other (i.e., blacks are overrepresented in prisons). One can get away with the latter to point out victimization, not problematic behavior patterns.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Race and Politics, US Politics, , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. paladin says:

    I’m not a fan of Rush Limbaugh’s, but when I was out driving on Monday, I was listening to him (gimme a break, in my area it’s him, country, jesusnetwork or Yo!Yo!Yo!). Rush said that if the debate has come to carving off special interest groups (not just blacks, but women also live longer than men) for special treatment, that means the system is broken. I agree. We will be financing Bill Gates’ retirement under the current system. This is the 21st Century, not the 1930’s. Social Security is not a private savings account, it is a tax. Once you say that blacks are an exception, then everyone will want to be an exception. Haven’t we learned anything from the past?

  2. denise says:

    I didn’t think Bush was talking about using any sort of profiling or weighting of SS pay-ins or benefits.

    I thought he was just pointing out that if you switch to a personal retirement account system, then each individual is funding his/her own retirement and not someone else’s. In the case of blacks, that means not paying in enough to cover whites, who generally live longer.

    I’m not sure it’s a winning argument, but it’s not a preference program.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Umm, no one is arguing that blacks should be excluded from the system. The purpose of the argument is twofold

    1. To gain the support of a significant voting bloc–that happens to be 90% Democrat and

    2. To illustrate the problem with a government-owned benefit program vice a private account. Blacks will still die earlier, at least in the short run, but they’ll at least have the ability to decide when to retire and will their savings as estate under a private/personal system.

  4. anjin-san says:

    Why don’t we work to improve our health care system and make sure blacks have equal access?

    Just another wild & crazy idea…

  5. Crerar says:

    No mention of the fact though if Blacks are net gainers or losers of social security contributions.

  6. McGehee says:

    Only the ones in red states, I’m sure.

  7. ipwatcher says:

    Too bad Bush was completely wrong about blacks being shortchanged by Social Security, as was shown by a study done by the Social Security deputy chief actuary after the Heritage Foundation made this erroneous claim in the late 90s.