Huffington Post Reporters Arthur Delaney and Ryan Grim Win December Sidney for “The Poorhouse: Aunt Winnie, Glenn Beck, and the Politics of the New Deal”
NEW YORK: The Sidney Hillman Foundation announced today that Huffington Post reporters Arthur Delaney and Ryan Grim have won the December Sidney award for “The Poorhouse: Aunt Winnie, Glenn Beck, and the Politics of the New Deal,” their over six-thousand word investigation into the legacy of Social Security in the United States. Through historical anecdotes, analysis, statistics, and political coverage, Delaney and Grim look at how the New Deal saved millions from the “poorhouse,” and the ways in which its programs are coming under attack today, even by some Democrats and President Obama.
Their findings include:
- Social Security is so effective that the virtual eradication of elderly poverty can safely be attributed to it, even by the most cautious academics.
- The keystone of the Social Security Act, its eponymous retirement insurance, has already been fractured by a deal between Obama and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who this month agreed to a Social Security payroll tax holiday as a method of stimulating the economy. Republicans openly admit that when the holiday’s expiration arrives next year, it will be treated as a tax hike, meaning Social Security’s dedicated revenue stream, which has never been tampered with before, may now be compromised, at the same time that leading Democrats propose cutting benefits and raising the retirement age.
- Social Security keeps some 20 million people out of poverty, including 13 million elderly Americans. Each 10 percent cut in benefits would lead to a 7.2 percent increase in poverty.
- Social Security works. It is evidence that people can do a better job insuring against life’s cruel downturns by working together and pooling resources than by going it alone in the market. If the financial market and its representatives in Washington succeed in undermining Social Security, they will not only have access to trillions of dollars, but will have dealt a blow to a leading symbol of the potential of collective action.
- The program’s opponents say Social Security reform is necessary because its future solvency is in question; as a result of the Baby Boom and advances in medicine, more people are living longer. But the actuaries who set up Social Security in the 1930s forecast with an eerie exactitude how much life expectancies would increase – a detail that is always ignored. And the system was reformed by the Greenspan Commission in 1983, when the first Boomers were nearly forty years old. Social Security’s actuaries reported this fall that after 2037, payroll taxes would be sufficient to pay nearly four-fifths of benefits through 2084.
- Currently, the payroll tax stops at a little over $106,000. A shortfall could be made up entirely by applying the payroll tax to more income above that threshold.
“Delaney and Grim’s piece uses history intelligently; it gives a magnificent defense of Social Security; and it explains the danger of the payroll tax holiday to Social Security’s future. Right now everyone needs to know these facts,“ said Alexandra Lescaze, executive director of the Sidney Hillman Foundation.
Arthur Delaney has been a reporter for The Huffington Post since March 2009, covering the jobs crisis as the site’s Economic Impact Correspondent. Previously he worked as a freelancer for the Washington City Paper, ABCNews, Slate Magazine, and The HillNewspaper.
Ryan Grim is the DC bureau chief for The Huffington Post. Formerly a reporter withWashington City Paper and Politico, he won the 2007 Association of Alternative Newsweeklies award for best long form news-story. He is the author of “This Is Your Country on Drugs”.
Huffington Post reporters Arthur Delaney and Ryan Grim discuss “The Poorhouse: Aunt Winnie, Glenn Beck, and the Politics of the New Deal,” their over six-thousand word investigation into the legacy of Social Security in the United States.
1. Why did you decide to look into Social Security?
President Obama went on 60 Minutes in November and positioned himself as more aggressive in going after entitlement spending, saying, “We’re gonna have to, you know, tackle some big issues like entitlements that, you know, when you listen to the Tea Party or you listen to Republican candidates they promise we’re not gonna touch.” Wait - so who is going to touch Social Security, and why are they going to touch it? And why do we have it in the first place? Meanwhile, what on earth is Glenn Beck talking about?
2. What surprised you as you did your research?
First, the simple fact that unless they were rich, old people in the old days had two choices: live with the kids or go to the poorhouse. Second, the way rhetoric about the deserving and undeserving poor hasn’t changed a bit in 100 years - the only thing that’s changed is who’s talking and who’s deserving. Progressives in the 19th Century pushed poorhouses as a more appropriate way to deal with poverty than giving financial aid, an idea flowing from the uglier, social Darwinian elements of that movement. Their comments on the negative effect of aid on the jobless sounded as if they could have come from a GOP floor speech circa 2010.
3. What has the response been since you published it?
Several people have written us to say the story about Aunt Winnie struck them. Their responses struck us - especially the one from a man who wrote: “Your piece brought back long forgotten childhood memories of my grandmother sending me to the houses of people living on the place and near it with boxes of food and clothing. I remember how apologetically grateful they were, both black and white, and, for some reason, it makes me feel guilty, even after all these years.”
4. Is there something you wish you had room to include in the piece but could not?
We had several thousand words on how the corporation flipped the Constitution on its head to become a person, but decided to cut it to focus on the Social Security Act and poorhouses. Hopefully it’ll see the light of cyberspace one day soon.
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