“One thing I know: Social Security is so firmly embedded in the American psychology today that no politician, no political party, no political group could possibly destroy this Act and still maintain our democratic system. It is safe. It is safe forever, and for the everlasting benefit of the people of the United States.”

Those words were spoken with conviction on Oct. 23, 1962, by Frances Perkins, former secretary of labor to President Roosevelt. Her most important contribution came in 1934 as chairwoman of the President’s Committee on Economic Security, where her work ultimately resulted in the Social Security Act of 1935.

Today, her words might sound a little more like bravado than a statement of fact. Polls show most Americans believe Social Security won’t be there for them when they retire. Some even think Social Security is bankrupt now. The truth is far different.

Today, Social Security is financially strong and in no immediate danger of defaulting as alarmists would have us believe. In fact, over the years it has built up a surplus of $2.5 trillion. Even without changes, Social Security will be able to pay full benefits until 2037 and nearly three-quarters of promised benefits for decades beyond.

This is your money. You have paid into Social Security all your working life. Amid all the uncertainty that Americans face these days, it is a relief to know that Social Security will be there for you, providing a solid foundation for retirement. Financed by money that hard-working people contribute over their working lives, Social Security is the one reliable, guaranteed source of income for older Americans and other beneficiaries. It provides a foundation of retirement income security for them to build upon, and it also offers economic security for disabled workers and the spouses and children of deceased workers. The benefits Social Security provides keep millions of Americans out of poverty.

With the other pillars of retirement security crumbling over the past decade – pensions, savings, and investments, for example – Social Security will likely play an increasingly vital role. Although it was never meant to be a worker’s sole source of retirement income, it is the strongest and most reliable of the pillars. Among seniors nationwide, 20 percent of married couples and about 41 percent of those who are single rely on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income.

It is hard to overstate the importance of Social Security in Maine. Few Mainers realize that the program pumps $3.5 billion annually into our battered economy. Ninety-five percent of Mainers 65 and older receive Social Security. One-third of older Mainers rely on Social Security as their only source of income.

It is not a lot of money – the average monthly Social Security check in Maine is only about $1,064 – but to many, it is a lifeline. In Maine, 38 percent of Social Security beneficiaries 65 and older are kept out of poverty thanks to those monthly checks. In addition to the large number of seniors who receive benefits, Social Security also provides benefits to more than 53,000 Mainers with disabilities and 23,000 children who have lost a working parent.

Few benefits are as reliable as Social Security. Companies can go bankrupt. Pensions can vanish. The stock market can take a nose dive. But Social Security benefits are there in good times and bad.

In 1983, after the recommendations of the Greenspan Commission were enacted, President Ronald Reagan said, “This bill demonstrates for all time our nation’s iron-clad commitment to Social Security. It assures the elderly that America will always keep the promises made in troubled times a half century ago. It assures those who are still working that they, too, have a pact with the future. From this day forward, they have our pledge that they will get their fair share of benefits when they retire.”

For three-quarters of a century, Social Security has been a guaranteed floor of income security. After a lifetime of hard work, Americans and their families should collect on the retirement benefits they have earned. Families whose primary wage earner dies prematurely or becomes disabled should continue to have some measure of economic security.

Together, we must find solutions that protect Social Security now and for future generations.

For more information visit:

www.aarp.org/socialsecurity or http://francesperkinscenter.org