Senior Citizens Should Not Be Penalized For Working

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by U.S. Senator Jon Kyl
R-Ariz.
Many senior citizens look forward to their retirement as a time to travel, to visit their children or grandchildren, or just to slow down a bit and spend time doing the things they want to do.Sometimes, however, the thing some seniors wish to do is to continue working.

Did you know that the United States has an official government policy of discouraging our senior citizens from continuing to be productive members of society? In fact, if seniors dare to work "too much," the federal government will keep some of their Social Security!

This is not right. America should not be in the position of forcing our senior citizens into unwanted retirement.

The Social Security Earnings Limitation -- which reduces the amount of Social Security a senior citizen receives if he or she works more than an allowed amount -- was created during the Depression in order to move older workers out of the labor force and to create job opportunities for younger workers. This policy is from a bygone era, and is even more unnecessary in today's era of low unemployment rates.

In an effort to address this problem, Congress passed legislation in 1996, which I supported, to raise the Social Security earnings limitation to $30,000 by 2002. That was a good start, but we must do more. Senator McCain and I have introduced legislation that would benefit by repealing the entire limitation immediately.

Currently, under the earnings limit, senior citizens aged 62 to 64 lose $1 in benefits for every $2 they earn over $9,600. Seniors aged 65-69 lose $1 in benefits for every $3 they earn over $15,500 annually. When combined with federal and state taxes, a senior citizen earning just over $14,000 per year faces an effective marginal tax rate of 56 percent.

Worse yet, when combined with the President's tax on Social Security benefits passed in 1993, a senior's marginal tax rate can reach 88 percent -- twice the rate millionaires pay!

Some lawmakers apparently forget that Social Security is not an insurance policy intended to offset some unforeseen future occurrence; rather, it is a form of pension with a fixed sum paid regularly to the retirees who made regular contributions throughout their working lives. Social Security is a planned savings program to supplement income during an individual's retirement years.

I believe no American should be discouraged from working. Such a policy violates the principles of self-reliance and personal responsibility on which America was founded. Regrettably, America's senior citizens are severely penalized for striving to be financially independent. When senior citizens work in order to pay for the high cost of health care, prescription drugs and housing, they are penalized like no other group in our society.

Additionally, senior citizens possess a wealth of experience and expertise acquired through decades of productivity in the work place. Companies hiring seniors have noted their strong work ethic, punctuality, and flexibility. Seniors' participation in the work force can add billions of dollars to our nation's economy.

We must stop penalizing America's senior citizens for working. I will work strenuously to get Congress to approve our legislation repealing this unfair and counter-productive burden on our society's most experienced members. President Clinton indicated his support for our bill in his 1999 State of the Union Address. I hope Congress gives him the chance to sign it.

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