The word “Entitlements” has recently come under a lot of scrutiny. The New York Times recently ran a great piece examining two different opinions on the word.
Judith Abrams, a New York City reader, expressed her concern over The Time’s use of “Entitlements” to describe Social Security and Medicare. She believes that Social Security is a viable fund, and that each person who receives Social Security has contributed to that fund throughout their life. She also feels that Medicare is something that each person pays for, typically through a deduction from one’s monthly Social Security Check, and therefore not an entitlement.
David Leonhardt, a Pulitzer Prize-winning economics expert was asked to give his opinion and response to Abrams, and in his reply, he took up not only the word choice, but the broader issues at hand.
Leonhardt, who has long had mixed feeling about the term, says that although it has a certain technical accuracy, he can understand why some readers would find it demeaning. He thinks that “Federal retirement benefits” is a much more telling term.
In response to Abrams’ understanding of the programs, Leonhardt thinks she may have some common misperceptions. Most people do not pay for all their Medicare benefits, but rather pay for a small portion towards them. The gap between what people pay into Medicare and what they receive in benefits, is, in fact, the largest source of the country’s fiscal problem.
Leonhardt goes on to state that the average person does come much closer to paying his or her Social Security benefits, but that Social Security faces a long-term financial shortfall.
According to Leonhardt, there is no reading of the budget that support the liberal view that Social Security and Medicare do not contribute to the country’s fiscal problems. He believes that if they are left unchanged, they will create large deficits.
Conclusively, the long-term effects of Social Security and Medicare are still up for political debate, however we can deduct that the word “Entitlements” has become a politically charged term. Since the negative meaning is often not intended, Mr. Leonhardt’s suggestion of using the “Federal retirement benefits” may be a better, more neutral way to address Social Security and Medicare.
Kenneth G. Marks has been practicing personal injury law since he was admitted to the California Bar in 1981. www.KmarksLaw.com