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The Attack on Entitlements


Insurance policyholders who pay their premiums, people who work, and veterans who serve all are eligible for coverage, for wages and for benefits.

They earned it.

They’re “entitled.”

Until the last few years, anyone with an entitlement was seen as having a legitimate, enforceable claim based on a contract or law. Now, however, Right Wing attacks ridicule entitlements and disparage anyone with a valid entitlement as a greedy slacker or worse, someone who should lose their rights and privileges, or else just thrown to the curb.

Such extremist manipulators of meanings and words try to connect recipients of something (that is, folks entitled to something) with idlers or dishonest parasites, and link that to veterans’ benefits, decent pay, Social Security, etc.

So pensioners are dismissed as freeloaders, working people as ungrateful, the jobless as lazy, and needy kids somehow wrong for being entitled to a modest breakfast.

Even conservative columnist Robert Samuelson conceded the double standard, writing, “Hypocritically, voters hate excessive spending and deficits, but scream if any political leader even suggests a cut to their own ‘entitlements’.”

Fueling the war on Social Security in particular are misleading assertions or misunderstandings about what Social Security has always been, how it’s used, and how it’s funded.

Social Security's actual title is Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance (OASDI). That last word helps people understand its purpose: It’s insurance – insurance that pays benefits when something happens that can cause financial hardship. It’s insurance – like your car’s liability insurance, like health insurance, life insurance or the FDIC protecting your bank deposits, for goodness’ sake.

That’s correct. Social Security is insurance and was never set up to be a household savings plan or personal investment program. It’s insurance.

There may be sensible reforms to strengthen the popular and successful program. Maybe some sort of “means testing” would be fair, so all wealth would be used to gauge the amount of OASDI benefits a person would receive or the Medicare premium someone would pay. By the same token, those especially hurt by the Great Recession, a death in the family or a disabling condition should see Medicare premiums cut and Social Security benefits increased.

Bill Knight

Many in Congress have long argued that Social Security’s “maximum taxable earnings” should be dropped, or at least drastically hiked. This year the maximum taxable earnings that contribute to Social Security was set at $117,000. Therefore, incomes of $117 million pay no more than the family paying on $117,000. That’s silly (except for the influence the 1% has to help keep their financial protections and loopholes in place).

Author Ellen Dannin, who wrote “Counting What Matters: Privatization, People with Disabilities, and the Cost of Low-Wage Work,” said, “The campaign against Social Security stems mainly from three misunderstandings about its funding and operation: that Social Security is going bankrupt; that Social Security is essentially the same as private pensions, IRAs and 401(k)s; and that Social Security is a tax on a par with personal and corporate income taxes. None of these beliefs is correct.”

And the unreasonable assault on Social Security-as-entitlement can be applied to other benefits to which you’re entitled: Your boss had you work an hour of overtime this week? You’re entitled to time-and-a-half pay for the extra hour’s work. You bought a ticket to a concert? You’re entitled to get in. You’ve passed a test for a driver’s license or college admission or a profession? You’re entitled to drive, go to school or practice that occupation.

As much as U.S. citizens are entitled to due process, equal protection under the law, or freedoms spelled out in the Bill of Rights, we are entitled to that which we’re qualified to have, from veterans benefits and pensions, to pay that’s somewhere between a minimum wage and an agreed-upon scale, to welfare and a FOID card. They’re all entitlements.

They’re not gifts.

And they must not be taken away.  

Contact Bill at; his twice-weekly newspaper columns are archived at

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Tri States Public Radio or Western Illinois University.