Springfield State Journal-Register
Friday, March 11, 2005

HEADLINE: Sens. Obama, Durbin blast Bush plan impact on blacks

BYLINE: Dori Meinert Copley News Service


Sens. Barack Obama and Dick Durbin Thursday lashed out at President Bush's plan to privatize Social Security, rebutting Bush's argument that the current system is "inherently unfair" to many blacks.

Obama, the only African-American in the Senate, said he found Bush's assertion that his Social Security plan would help African-Americans to be offensive.

At a Jan. 11 forum, Bush said: "African-American males die sooner than other males do, which means the system is inherently unfair to a certain group of people. And that needs to be fixed."

In recent weeks, Bush administration officials and supporters have continued to point out that blacks have a shorter life expectancy, meaning they have less time to recoup what they pay into Social Security. They argue that Bush's plan for private accounts would allow African-Americans to divert some of their Social Security to invest on their own.

"Essentially what the president is saying is that because African-Americans statistically are poorer, and have more health problems and, as a consequence, have shorter life expectancies, they should be less concerned with long-term insurance for their families," said Obama.

"This is as if the president was arguing for privatization of fire protection because our houses aren't worth as much as houses in rich neighborhoods. Or maybe we could privatize police protection because if we get robbed our stuff isn't as nice," Obama said. "It defies logic."

While Obama said he would have preferred not to frame the issue in racial terms, he felt compelled to respond to the president's attempts to persuade African-Americans they would fare well under his privatization plan.

Obama said: "It is puzzling to me that we're even having this debate about whether Social Security is good or not for African-Americans. I frankly found the statement that the president made somewhat offensive."

Appearing with Obama at a press conference, Durbin noted that 40 percent of elderly African-Americans rely on Social Security as their only source of retirement income compared to 22 percent of the overall population.

Also, while blacks make up 13 percent of the overall population, 23 percent of children receiving survivor benefits and 21 percent of children receive benefits due to a disabled parent are African-American.

Because of the system's progressive benefit formula, low-income workers, who are disproportionately black, receive a slightly higher percentage of their earnings when they retire than higher-income workers, Durbin said.

"What we should be talking about is how to help African Americans live longer and save more rather than debating whether cutting benefits ... is beneficial to the African-American community," Durbin said.

They were joined by Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., who said he was "outraged" by Bush's remarks, and representatives of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Urban League, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and the Economic Policy Institute.