For decades, politicians have referred to Social Security as the third rail of politics; tinkering with it meant committing political suicide. Now I'm not a politician, so I'm in no danger of losing votes that could cost me an election.
However, I am in danger of losing the respect of my 16 grandchildren if I don't speak out about the so called "third rail," and losing their respect would make losing an election pale in comparison.
I've not only touched the third rail, and survived but I'm riding on it daily.
A few years ago I was issued my boarding pass as a result of a lifetime of pre-purchasing my ticket through something that showed up on my paycheck as an OASDI deduction. Right across the top of my boarding pass in bold letters was "I'm entitled," and now I can go anytime, anywhere the third rail goes — no more tolls, no pat downs, no electronic screening, no waiting,
When I do decide to disembark, say at a local diner, my boarding pass even gets me a meal deal. Wow, this really is All About Retired People; isn't it?
Now our children and grandchildren aren't eligible for this third-rail ride just yet, but they do participate by funding the boarding pass program, and like everything else, the boarding pass price has increased significantly. For example, a 1960 retiree's boarding pass fee was only 1.6 percent of their working lifetime wage; for a 1980 retiree, it was 5.15 percent; a 2000 retiree, 9.66 percent. For those just entering the boarding pass program in 2010, the fee was 12.4 percent of their annual wages. Do you see a trend here?
Here is why this had to happen. Baby boomers were pre-purchasing their boarding passes, and politicians were concerned the third rail would overload; you know, be operating in the red. So they introduced a new super-funding fee for the third-rail program in 1983. This new super fee was hailed as a plan to ensure boarding pass funding for the next 75 years. Not knowing the full story, working Americans applauded, saying Congress and the president demonstrated great political courage.
Now less than 30 years later, we're beginning to sense the wheels could be coming off. In fact, some even suggest the 1983 super fee program wasn't an act of political courage at all. They say it was a virtual-world political dream that's morphing into a real-world economic nightmare. If that's the case, maybe we should slow down this third-rail ride, catch our collective breath, and open a dialogue with those who are funding our ride. Failure to do so may leave us holding a boarding pass with nowhere to go.
God forbid I should have to get out there on that old dirt road and hitchhike a ride. After riding the third rail, hitchhiking would just put a crimp in my style, after all I have an "I'm entitled" boarding pass that entitles me to ride the third rail anytime anywhere. Need I remind you again: It's All About Retired People, isn't it?
Don't think your elected officials are going to wave their magic wand and fix it anytime soon. They're too scared to even touch it; after all, it is the third rail.
So my best advice is, get involved before the wheels come off and our third-rail ride is over.
Jim Gries lives in Weeki Wachee.