Social Security Chief Opens B.C. Center

By Joe Hunter
Contributing Writer

Speaking at a reception marking the opening of BC's Center for Retirement Research, Social Security Commissioner Kenneth A. Apfel said the nation is at a "major crossroads" and will determine in the next two years whether it will effectively grapple with the challenges of an aging population. Apfel made his remarks on Feb. 3 at the Boston College Club.

The center, directed by Drucker Professor of Management Sciences Alicia Munnell, was established in October with a $5.25 million grant from the Social Security Administration. One of two such university-based centers in the country, its mission is to provide a base of research and information for the policy makers who are considering Social Security reform.

Drucker Professor of Management Sciences Alicia Munnell, director of BC's Center for Retirement Research, talks with Social Security Commissioner Kenneth Apfel at the Feb. 3 event.
Board of Trustees Chairman Richard Syron, chairman and CEO of the American Stock Exchange, noted the center's collaborative relationships with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Brookings Institution and other leading organizations.

"Boston College is very committed to joining the top ranks of research institutions in the United States," Syron told the assembled faculty members, business leaders and members of the Boston College community. "That's why we're so pleased to be part of this effort and to partner with [such prestigious institutions]."

Associate Academic Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies Michael Smyer added, "As an institution that is concerned with the application of knowledge to pressing social problems, Boston College at this time is the right place for the establishment of such a center."

Apfel said the Social Security system faces a number of challenges in the coming decades, including the strain of providing benefits for retiring baby boomers, but that recent developments had made him optimistic that solutions can be found.

"Ten years ago, five years ago," Apfel said, "when we were dealing with $300 billion federal budget deficits and a fiscal policy that was incapable of dealing with intergenerational issues, I was looking at crossroads that all seemed to lead up Mount Everest."

However, the continuing strength of the economy and projected budget surpluses have created a "window of opportunity" that make the path seem less steep, Apfel said. He praised President Clinton's proposal to shore up Social Security's finances by using a portion of the budget surpluses and stock market investments.

Apfel said the Center for Retirement Research would play a vital role in finding solutions for Social Security's problems.

"This is not an issue that's going to go away today or tomorrow or by the end of the year," he said. "We need continued emphasis on knowledge about the aging of Americans and retirement security policy, and this center is going to make a major contribution to the country."

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