MEET CARRIE LUKAS:
Carrie L. Lukas is the vice president for policy and economics for the Independent Women’s Forum. Lukas is the author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex, and Feminism, which was published by Regnery Publishing in May 2006. She is also a contributor to National Review Online.
Since joining the Independent Women’s Forum in 2003, Lukas has authored the IWF special reports, Dependency Divas: How the Feminist Big Government Agenda Betrays Women and Recess from Reality: The Feminist Failure to Embrace School Choice. Additionally, she has written IWF position papers on social security and tax policy. Lukas is a regular fixture on opinion pages around the nation, and has appeared on numerous radio, cable and network television programs. She holds a bachelor of arts from Princeton University and a master’s in public policy from Harvard University.
Abdnor: With Mother’s Day approaching, you’re the perfect person to help us answer a few questions.
You’re an expert on Social Security, the Mother of a toddler and you’ll soon deliver your second child.
You’ve been working on Social Security for many years. During that time, has your thinking about the future of Social Security changed?
Carrie Lukas: When I began working on Social Security, I don’t think I realized just how difficult it would be for policymakers to make improvements to the system. There is near universal agreement that Social Security will face a real financial crisis, yet few policymakers are willing to seriously discuss how to solve those problems. That can be discouraging. But the challenges the system faces today are the same that they faced ten years ago when I first started working on the issue-the need for action has just become more urgent.
Abdnor: You’re a “working” Mom–earning outside income. How does the system treat working Moms, married, divorced or single? Does it treat everyone equally?
Carrie Lukas: That’s one of the real problems with the way that Social Security is set up. It doesn’t treat everyone equally. Some choices and lifestyles are rewarded and some are penalized by the system. I don’t think that’s the proper role of government.
Consider, for example, that many married women who work won’t earn an extra penny of Social Security benefits for years of contributions to the system. That’s a real disincentive for married women to enter the workforce. Women who get divorced can also suffer under the current Social Security system. Imagine a woman who left the workforce to care for children but gets divorced after nine years of marriage. She has no right to any of the retirement benefits her husband accrued during their marriage. She may be starting from square one in saving for retirement.
Abdnor: What should be the goal(s) of modernizing Social Security?
Carrie Lukas: We need a Social Security system that treats individuals fairly and provides individuals with a real opportunity to save. Right now, the money individuals pay into Social Security is a big lost opportunity. For many Americans, particularly those with lower incomes, the money they pay into Social Security is the only money they are putting away for retirement. Unfortunately, Social Security is going to provide them with a really low rate of return. They deserve better than that. That’s why I believe we need to give individuals the chance to use a portion of their money to fund a personal savings account. A system of personal accounts that allows individuals to save and invest their payroll taxes will give everyone the opportunity to build a real nest egg and be better off at retirement.
Another goal should be to make Social Security financially solvent. I find it appalling to think that my daughters-one not yet two and another expected any day now-are going to be saddled with a tremendous debt from programs that were put in place decades ago. We need to act now to make sure that Social Security is sustainable and doesn’t cripple the economy for the next generation.
Abdnor: If Social Security isn’t fixed soon, what do you think will be the impact on your generation and your children’s generation?
Carrie Lukas: I simply cannot imagine that policymakers are going to let the system continue on its current course. It would just be too irresponsible and potentially devastating for the next generation.
Consider that when my girls enter the workforce, they are going to be paying 17 percent of their income just to support Social Security. Medicare costs are also going to be on the rise. Is that really the legacy that we want to leave them? Not only will this make the next generation poorer, but it will leave them less able to deal with whatever challenges they face. We don’t know what lies ahead-the next generation deserves the flexibility to be able to allocate their resources as we see fit. We shouldn’t lock them in to spending such an enormous percentage of their income on transfer programs to the elderly.
Abdnor: On a personal note, what are a few of the best things about being a Mother?
Carrie Lukas: It sounds like a cliché but it is really impossible to describe how rewarding it is watching a child grow and develop her own personality. It is such fun watching my daughter discover the world around her and get such joy from simple things.