University Dean Claims White People Receive More Social Security Benefits, 'Forgets' Important Facts

University dean claims white people collect more Social Security benefits than black people. (Credit: Washington Post/Fox News)

Let’s begin with a question:

Are you aware that the U.S. Social Security System is a perfect example of “structural inequity” in America? Neither am I, and if it is, I should know that— for reasons I’ll explain later.

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Thomas LaVeist, the dean of Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, told Washington Post reporter Akilah Johnson at WaPo Live’s “Health Equity” event on Thursday that the longer lifespan of white people gives them an advantage over black people, an advantage which results in white people receiving greater amounts of Social Security retirement benefits.

Incidentally, Akilah Johnson’s beat is exploring “the effect of racism and social inequality on health.”

While LaVeist didn’t flat-out claim the Social Security System is “racist,” he did misrepresent its primary purpose:

So we have a policy, we have [the] Social Security program established in 1935. This program was established to help address poverty, that [sic] many people after retirement were not able to — to basically live.

Hold the bus — some facts are coming aboard.

LaVeist’s first statement was correct. Congress passed the Social Security Act in 1935, which was created “to provide for the general welfare by establishing a system of federal old-age benefits, as well as unemployment insurance. It was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of his New Deal (wealth redistribution) program. The age for receiving full retirement benefits was set at age 65.

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LaVeist continued:

The program was developed, but if you look at the differences in life expectancy, if you say you have a Black worker, White worker, they begin working at the same day, at the same job, for the same company, they make the same salary, which might not always be the case, but in this example, they make the same salary. They paid the exact same amount of money into the Social Security system, and they both retire the same day.

Because the White person on average is going to live longer than the Black person, there’s going to be a difference in how much they’re going to get out of that system that they paid into.

However, LaVeist failed to mention a salient fact: The average life span at birth for men in 1935 was 59.3 years; the average for women was 63.9 years. (Full retirement benefits have since changed, which is irrelevant to LaVeist’s argument.) So the first “bottom line” is this: The Social Security system was fundamentally designed to provide benefits to all qualified workers who outlived their respective lifespans — not to become a worker’s complete retirement plan.

This is where the “I’ll explain later” part comes in.

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As a CFP (Certified Financial Planner) for 30 years who specialized in retirement planning, I know a thing or two about the Social Security System— including various misperceptions. One of the misperceptions among an untold number of Americans — white, black, and every color in between — is that workers accumulate their individual SS “accounts,” from which they collect benefits when they retire. That belief is incorrect.

Social Security is a transfer system in which FICA — the Federal Insurance Contributions Act — or “payroll tax,” is deducted from W-2 employees (as opposed to Form 1099 independent contractors and self-employed people, but we’re not going to get any farther into the weeds, here). Thus, current FICA taxes are used to pay existing qualified retirees (in addition to Social Security Disability Income).

As I said earlier, LaVeist stopped short of labeling SS “racist” but did say the following:

I’m not saying that Social Security is inherently racist, but I’m saying that it has an inequitable outcome because of … health inequities and this is just a good way to demonstrate how that operates.

Wrong — without “the rest of the story.”

LaVeist unknowingly made part of my point when he brought up health inequities.

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On July 30, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare into law, which became part of the aforementioned payroll tax. The federal health insurance program (partially) covers medical expenses for people aged 65 or older, certain younger people with disabilities, and people with end-stage renal disease. So it stands to reason that, on average, people who are less healthy receive greater medical benefits over their lives than people who are healthy.

The second bottom line is this:

LaVeist demonstrated the left’s intentional habit of leaving out “the rest of the story” — in addition to twisting the truth, of course — which intentionally omits relevant facts or information in an effort to skew reality as part of an argument to support one’s narrative.

Who’d a thunk it?

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