The Boston audience, which met in the Heights Room of the Lower Campus Dining Facility from noon to 4 p.m., joined groups in nine other US cities for what organizers called "a true national discussion" on Social Security.
The event was held under the auspices of Americans Discuss Social Security, a non-partisan project funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts to engage Americans from all walks of life in a country-wide debate on the future of Social Security.
Other cities represented in the Saturday teleconference were Albuquerque, NM; Boise, Idaho; Denver; Detroit; Lexington, Ky.; Minneapolis-St. Paul; San Francisco; Tallahassee, Fla., and Winston-Salem, NC.
Organizers said the approximately 120 audience members in each city were chosen to reflect both local demographics and a range of philosophical views.
But two Boston College faculty members who attended the conference expressed doubts as to whether it truly offered a diversity of opinion. While he thought the forum was "fascinating technically," Assoc. Prof. Eric Kingson (GSSW) said it resembled a political caucus in that only those with strongly formed opinions on the issue appeared to have made the effort to attend both a pre-conference rehearsal on Friday and the Saturday event.
"It was the intent of the Pew Trusts to put together a balanced and representative group, but I don't think it worked," said Kingson, who has been active in several national Social Security reform initiatives.
Prof. John Williamson (Sociology) said he thought the Boston audience to be skewed in favor of relatively well-off proponents of the partial privatization of Social Security, a scheme Williamson opposes as potentially harmful to the poor and working-class.
"It was clear that the least affluent were not well represented," Williamson said. "This is an important issue because this event was supposedly designed to present how America feels about Social Security reform."
President Clinton used the conference to build support for his plan to use a budget surplus to save Social Security, which he says is in danger of running out by the year 2029. The president's plan has received bipartisan support in Congress.
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