Social Security debate misses key point: kids

Students of government speak of the "graying" of the federal budget. That is to say, over the years government funds tend to favor older adults, who vote, over children, who don't.

In the current great debate about Social Security, you hear a lot about retirees and soon-to-retire baby boomers, not much about the 1 in 3 beneficiaries who receive support from other components of the program.

I am indebted to the National Center for Children in Poverty in New York for a study of the oft-neglected aspects of Social Security. About 3.1 million children under 18 receive benefits because a parent has died or become disabled. Another 2.2 million children live in households where at least one adult receives Social Security benefits. For many families, Social Security is the primary, if not the only source of support, preventing many low-income families from falling into poverty.

The current Social Security debate tends to be couched almost entirely in terms of individual retirees, as though they have no spouses, or children, or grandchildren. The debate loses sight of the fact that Social Security was designed as a family insurance program.

When the Bush administration talks of introducing private investment accounts, it doesn't say how this would affect disabled younger workers who can't accumulate enough assets to start such an account.

In the aftermath of 9/11, most of the children who lost a parent, and surviving parents who stayed home to care for children, qualified for Social Security benefits, along with workers who were disabled on that day.

Social Security is, in fact, the largest children's program America has. But we don't hear much about that, as the administration concentrates on maintaining benefits for retirees.

Daniel Schorr is the senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

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