Seniors shouldn't be penalized for working

Social Security has been among the most successful social programs in the history of our nation, lowering the poverty rate among seniors and providing a secure income to millions of retirees. Unfortunately, one aspect of Social Security has not kept pace with our changing times.

Today, America still has a Depression-era law which was designed to get seniors out of the work force so that young people could find employment. Known as the Social Security earnings limit, this law's usefulness has long since passed and I strongly believe the Congress should act this year to repeal limits on the amount of income certain senior citizens can earn before they lose their Social Security benefits.

Seniors in Nevada and throughout the country are living longer and they're filling important jobs in today's tight labor market. These older Americans should not be penalized by losing the benefits they have worked so hard to earn simply for wanting to work. Under our current law, seniors between ages 65 and 69 lose all or part of their Social Security benefits when their yearly earnings exceed a set amount. A senior earning more than $17,000 loses $1 of Social Security benefits for every $3 of earnings over the limit.

In Nevada, more than 175,000 retired seniors receive benefits from Social Security, with the majority living in Clark or Washoe County. These population centers would benefit from the ability to add seniors to the work force, especially in rapid growing communities like Las Vegas, Henderson and Reno.

When Social Security was created during the Great Depression, the earnings test was included to encourage older people to leave the work force so jobs would become available for younger workers. Over the years, the earnings test has been adjusted to reflect a changing work force, but the earnings limit has never been eliminated.

This law stands instead as a roadblock to many seniors who would like to remain employed as a way to stay active, or would like to find employment as a means to supplement their income. The restriction also prevents employers from adding seniors with valuable experience to their payrolls.

The true impact of this proposal will also be felt in the coming years as millions of baby boomers begin to reach retirement age. They will be the largest generation of seniors our nation has ever known and unless we change the current law, they too will be limited in their ability to find employment without having to forfeit those Social Security benefits which they have worked so hard to accrue.

President Clinton has recently signaled his support to repeal the earnings restriction on Social Security recipients between the ages of 65 and 69, and I am prepared to support this effort as it moves through Congress. Lifting the cap on earnings would benefit seniors and it would benefit society.

Harry Reid, a Democrat, represents Nevada in the U.S. Senate.


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