I have always been amazed by the number of people who think Social Security is unique to the United States. Or if not truly unique, they figure that maybe a couple of those "socialist" countries like Sweden and Denmark might have social insurance programs in place, but surely not too many other places. As someone once said to me following a speech I had given: "You know that Social Security is just one of the social experiments forced on this country by FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt), and it's doomed to failure just like so many of his other New Deal programs."
This guy obviously was not a history major. But he mimicked views held by so many people: Social Security is some kind of income redistribution experiment that the United States is testing. And if by some miracle it works here, maybe other nations around the world might follow suit.
Actually, just the opposite is true. Almost every country on the planet has a Social Security system in place for its citizens. And many of those countries had Social Security laws on their books long before the U.S. jumped on the social insurance bandwagon in the 1930s.
I have in front of me a book called "Social Security Programs Throughout the World" that is produced by the U.S. Social Security Administration. It provides thumbnail sketches of the history, funding and benefits of each country's social insurance system. There are currently about 190 countries around the globe. And 177 of them, or 93 percent, have Social Security programs. I always point this out to young people who fret about the future of our Social Security system. I tell them that Social Security isn't an American experiment in socialism that will someday run its course. Instead, Social Security is a worldwide phenomenon. It is a system of rules and laws in place everywhere from Albania to Zimbabwe. It is the method that civilized people across the globe use to provide some means of financial assistance to their elderly and disabled citizens, and to the widows, widowers and children of workers who die.
It's that last point that is very interesting. Most Social Security programs around the world offer benefits remarkably similar to our own — to retirees, to disabled people and to survivors. I'm going to use the rest of this column to highlight the similarities and differences between just a random selection of those 177 programs described in my book.
The United States
First Social Security laws: 1935
Funding: Workers pay 6.2 percent of wages matched by employers. Self-employed pay 12.4 percent.
Benefits: Full retirement at 66 (going up to 67 by 2027); disability at any age if 100 percent disabled; survivors benefits to children under age 18 and to widow(er)s at 60 or at any age if caring for minor children.
First Social Security laws: 1889
Funding: Workers pay 9.8 percent of wages matched by employers. Self employed pay 19.6 percent
Benefits: Full retirement at 65 (going up to 67 by 2024); disability benefits at any age for full or partial disabilities; survivor benefits to children until age 18 and possibly up to age 27; widow(er)'s benefits for 2 years following death or for longer period of time if caring for minor children.
First Social Security laws: 1904
Funding: Workers pay 11 percent of wages; employers pay up to 17 percent; self employed pay set monthly fees based on the kind of business.
Benefits: Retirement benefits for men at 65 and for women at 60; or as early as 50 if doing "hazardous work;" disability at any age with a loss of 66 percent of working capacity; survivor benefits to a spouse at any age and to children under age 18.
First Social Security laws: 1908.
Funding: Paid for with general tax revenues (no payroll or self employment taxes).
Benefits: Means-tested retirement at age 65, going to 67 by 2033; means tested disability and survivor benefits. A variety of other benefits that are not means-tested are available to Australian citizens.
First Social Security laws: 1967
Funding: Worker pays 5.25 percent of wages matched by employer
Benefits: Retirement at 60 or age 58 for government employees or age 55 if "prematurely aged;" disability benefits with a loss of 66 percent of work capacity; survivor benefits to children under 14 and to widow(er)s if caring for a dependent child.
If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Tom Margenau and to read past columns and see features from other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.