I can still remember the separate water fountains and segregated buses as a young boy growing up in Atlanta in the 1950?s. Even as a seven-year-old kid I felt insulted and humiliated by the insinuation that we were not good enough to drink from the same water fountains as Whites, or ride in the front of the bus. Thanks to the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., U.S. House and Senate Republicans, and the sacrifices of many others, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted to end this discrimination and begin to restore the full rights of citizenship for all Americans.
It is now evident that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not apply to the Social Security system. Due to the rising retirement age, differences in life expectancy between Blacks and Whites, and mandatory payroll tax deductions, the system by its very nature discriminates against black men and women.
This built-in discrimination has been present since 1935 when Social Security was established. The original retirement age to begin receiving Social Security benefits was set at 65 years. Black women in 1935 lived to an average age of 55, and black men to the age of 51. Our white brothers did not fare much better, since they were expected to live just 61 years.
This disparity in life expectancy still exists, but unfortunately so does the discriminatory nature of Social Security. Black males today have an average life expectancy of 68 years, yet Congress continues to raise the retirement age. The current structure simply cannot afford to send monthly checks to all citizens over the age of 65. That is a mathematical fact, and a dirty little secret Congressional Democrats do not want you to know.
To compound the discrimination, your mandatory payroll tax deductions do not go to your heirs when you die, but to people you do not even know. Under the current Social Security structure, deceased black men essentially fund a large percentage of the retirement income of elderly white women, since they live the longest to nearly 80 years on average.
Blacks are disadvantaged further by Social Security because most have few dollars to invest in their own 401(k) or IRA plans. Once payroll taxes are deducted and the necessities of food, clothing, shelter, and transportation are met, there is often little money left to fund a retirement plan. Not surprisingly, 38 percent of black retirees rely solely on Social Security for their income.
Under President Bush?s plan to restructure Social Security, all of the nation?s younger workers, regardless of race or sex, would have the option to divert a portion of their 12.4 percent mandatory payroll tax deduction to a personal retirement account they control and own.
Herman Cain is the National Chairman of the Media Research Center’s Business & Media Institute. He is the former president and CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, Inc., and currently is CEO and president of T.H.E. New Voice, Inc., a business and leadership consulting company.
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