While Republican presidential Rick Perry has called Social Security an unconstitutional “Ponzi Scheme.” rival Newt Gingrich says Social Security serves a “unique” purpose for elderly Americans, although Gingrich is proposing changes that would allow younger workers to invest their Social Security taxes in private accounts.

“It is a long-term program to enable people to know that in their older years they’re not going to starve…they’re not going to be homeless,” Gingrich says. “….I don’t agree with people who attack Social Security. This has been a social program of enormous power. It has improved the lives of virtually every senior citizen in this country. You go back to 1935 and you look at what was happening to people who were 65 and 70 years old and now you look at how much better off they are.”

Gingrich would allow younger workers to invest half their Social Security taxes in a private account, but keep the portion paid by employers in the system. “But I’d make it an option,” Gingrich says. “I would not go in and eliminate Social Security.” 

Under the half-and-half plan Gingrich proposes, half the Social Security taxes for an individual worker could be deposited in a private account. The other half, paid by an employer or by the individual if they’re self-employed, would still be paid into the Social Security system.

“If you want to take a personal savings account model and you think it works better for you, we would keep the minimum payment Social Security level as your fallback,” Gingrich says, “so if something really went totally wrong, we would guarantee you the minimum in Social Security.” 

Gingrich also downplays the idea Social Security soon will be insolvent. An improved national economy will solve much of the problem according to Gingrich.

“You go down from nine percent unemployment to four (percent), all those people start paying their Social Security tax, you really beef up the Social Security Trust Fund which helps it stabilize out 35, 40 years,” Gingrich says. “And if you have a relatively stable Trust Fund for 35 or 40 years, you know for most of us (I mean, I’m 68) I think if we make it 40 years (at 108 I’ll come back and chat with you about it) that’s a pretty powerful building block.”

Gingrich made his comments during a 20-minute interview organized by AARP. The full interview is available via Mediacom’s on-demand channel.  Three other GOP candidates also taped interviews which are part of the “Video Voters Guide” AARP produced and made available through Mediacom cable systems.