Commentary

Sober Security: Personal Retirement Accounts are Pro-Black, Too

How raw a deal is Social Security for black Americans? Citing research by Harvard professor and former Clinton Administration official Jeffrey Liebman, President Bush’s Commission to Strengthen Social Security concluded last August that blacks “receive nearly $21,000 less on a lifetime basis from Social Security’s retirement program than whites with similar income and marital status.”

Largely due to differences in life expectancy, Social Security essentially pumps money from the pockets of blacks into those of whites. Having survived childhood diseases and youth violence, 25-year-old black men starting work in 1999 could expect to live to 70.2 years versus 75.9 for white males, the National Center for Health Statistics reports. Black women could expect to reach 76.4 years compared to 80.8 for white females.

These were among the sobering facts discussed at a recent conference on black Americans and Social Security at the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington. Key socio-economic distinctions between average black and white Americans explain why Congress urgently should adopt President Bush’s plan for personal retirement accounts. Such a reform would promote the general welfare and dramatically advance the financial prospects for black Americans in particular.

Despite the civil rights establishment’s fealty to Social Security, rank-and-file blacks support privatization. A February 2001 Zogby survey for Cato revealed that 53.5% of blacks favor personal accounts. President Bush should rally black Americans as his secret weapon once this battle is joined.

He also would be wise to stump with Herman Cain. The chairman of Godfather’s Pizza is a prominent black business executive and one of Social Security modernization’s most persuasive and entertaining advocates. Cain says that at age 56, he already has paid $161,000 into Social Security. In the next 10 years, he expects to add another $74,000 to the system. “If that’s going to be a transfer from me to white people,” Herman Cain wonders, “can’t I at least give it to white people I like?”

Deroy Murdock is an advisory board member of the Cato Institute’s Project on Social Security Choice.