Social Security and the African American Male (a Cash Transfer System)

Article excerpt

All employed workers are required to contribute to the Social Security System; however, a disproportionate percentage of African American males never live long enough to collect any benefits from their contributions. On the other hand, the life-expectancy of white males is significantly longer than the life expectancy of African American males, and their collection of Social Security benefits tends to exceed their contributions to the system. The federal government keeps the Social Security system from becoming completely solvent by raiding it of any surplus funds it collects; thereby, preventing the Social Security Fund from developing interest income, and accumulating funds for future generations of retirees.

Key words: Social Security, African American, male, life expectancy


Rawls (1971), in his now seminal work, A Theory of Justice, argues that laws should be formulated behind a "Vail of Ignorance" where those who make the laws are unaware of who would be advantaged or disadvantaged by the laws, but society would be better served. Only then would we have a just society (pp. 136-142). The Vail of Ignorance theory suggests that those who make law should have no idea of the differential effect each law they make will have upon the various groups in society. For African American males, the Social Security Act of 1935, and its subsequent amendments, would be a just law if it had been formulated in such a manner. Instead, the components of the Social Security Act were formulated with knowledge of the Act's impending differential impact for African Americans in general, and for African American males in particular. Over the years since its enactment, the bill itself has proven to be highly unjust for African Americans, and particularly for African American males.

In the United States legislation is developed by a group of upper class, wealthy white men and women with their eyes closed to racial and economic justice for African Americans, and wide-open to dominant group advantages. For example, "The New Deal, seen by many as a progressive movement towards equality, incorporated several provisions explicitly designed to maintain racial privilege.... As a result, the Social Security Act of 1935 excluded domestic servants and agricultural workers--jobs predominantly filled by African-Americans" (Barusch, 2002, p. 314). Euphemistically, this system is variously called representative democracy, participatory democracy, or even equal opportunity. It appears that many, if not most, of our laws are promulgated on planned structural discrimination, class exploitation, and intergroup (race, class, age, and gender) antagonism. Social Security is one of the most glaring examples of such laws.

The purpose of this article is to explore an issue that is seldom spoken of, and almost never explored prior to the introduction of the rhetoric of privatizing Social Security into the political arena. That issue is the complex relationship between African-American males, Euro-referenced white males, and the Social Insurance Program known as Social Security OASDI (old age, survivors, and disability insurance): the economic system of entitlements for the aged. The approach to the topic is exploratory-descriptive. Therefore, while narrowly focused, it is anticipated that a number of serendipitous questions and issues will arise in the course of discussion. However, this is a single issue article: does African American male's contribution to the Social Security system constitute a de facto cash transfer from African American males to white males?

The exploration of this issue began with an assumed relationship between the differential life expectancy of African-American and white males in the United States, and the distribution of Social Security benefits in retirement. That led to the question of who pays into Social Security (FICA), and who collect benefits from Social Security--the difference between the theoretical, and the actually. …