WCCO’s Poor Attempt to Explain Social Security Solvency


John Lauritsen and WCCO television news just did a hack job on Social Security with tonight’s “Good Question” segment.  The story played to people’s concerns and pandered to the private retirement industry.

In fact the sole voice in the story was Nicole Middendorf, a certified financial planner, someone who Social Security Poster: widowhas an interest in people looking for investments beyond Social Security.  To be clear and fair, I’m not saying that Social Security should be the only part of a smart retirement strategy — however most retirees rely on it for a majority of their retirement income, a full quarter of retirees get more than 90 of their income from Social Security — but asking a financial planner if Social Security is solid is like asking an auto dealer if a bus will get you from point A to point B.

Moreover, as a reporter, Lauristen should have done a better job checking the numbers.  He answered the “What”, but what about the “Why” or even “Who”?

The fact is Social Security is a hot-button issue and if funding issues are not addressed, it will run out of money.  However, the problem with Social Security isn’t inefficiencies in the policy or even funding, it is political.  There is an increasingly intransigent conservative party in this country that has turned its back on the good work government does for people, choosing instead to make government a tool for profit.

Modern Social Security card.

Don’t believe me?  Who do you think Republicans represent?  Average workers and their families?  Hell no.  Listen to their speeches and read their position papers.  They TELL YOU all about their priorities and it is all about business.  As a corollary of that belief they support the interests of the wealthy, the so-called job creators.  Social Security doesn’t fit into this scheme.  Where are the almighty private profits?  It has become obscene.  In today’s America, the real takers are those who earn more and pay less for the benefits of a society we have all built.  One of the benefits they want to see disappear is public retirement savings, otherwise known as Social Security.

We hear it all the time, right?  Privatize Social Security is a standard conservative talking point.  Does that surprise anyone?

Social Security is especially important to women and minorities, not exactly the conservative constituency.  But beyond that, the majority of Americans rely on it for more than half of their retirement income.  In fact without it, half of all elderly in this country would be living in poverty.  Social Security has been a big success and an important reason why our country prospered.

It should surprise no one, therefore, that conservatives drag their feet when it comes to Social Security reform.  The worse Social Security becomes the better their arguments sound, especially to a naive and misguided populace.  Most young adults incorrectly believe that Social Security is destined to fail.  It isn’t.

John Lauritsen

John Lauritsen

So back to John Laurinsten.  There are facts behind these “failing” numbers.  He doesn’t have to go into the political mischief that is occurring — although he probably should have — to explain then benefits, features, and options for the future of Social Security.  Rather than interview a financial planner — a person who stands to gain by confusion about Social Security — bring in an expert, someone who studies and teaches the subject perhaps.  A quick search online finds dozens, many with strong reputations.

In the end, Laurinsten and WCCO failed to put the issue in context and explain numbers.  Instead they did their “man on the street” bit and rattled off the scary half-truths about Social Security.  Then used a financial planner to give the story credibility.  A big fail in my book.


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