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Los Angeles County set to withdraw its workers from social security

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On New Year's Day, Los Angeles County is scheduled to set a dubious record.

Effective that day, the county's 55,000 employees will be withdrawn from the social security system - making the county the largest unit ever to defect. But it's a move that flies in the face of proposals being discussed to help cure the system's financial woes.

At issue is how to mandate participation in social security for those groups left out of the system when it was set up in 1935: federal employees, nonprofit employees, and state and local government employees. (The two latter groups were given the option to join, with a right to withdraw later, under federal legislation passed in 1950. Federal employees, who wield considerable political clout, have always fought inclusion in the system.)

The concept, known as ''universal coverage,'' has been debated by the presidentially appointed National Commission on Social Security Reform and is generally considered to be - in some form - one of the recommendations it will make by the end of the year.

Although the commission's staff estimates that mandated participation by all three groups would raise $110 billion in social security revenues by 1989, it's unlikely that the commission will propose such a sweeping move. Instead, those involved with the advisory group say, some modified form of universal coverage is likely to be proposed as a way to help raise the estimated $150 billion to $ 200 billion the system will need by 1989.

''Most of us will vote for including newly hired federal emloyees and those with less than five years' experience,'' says Robert Ball, former commissioner of the social security system and leader of the Democrats on the bipartisan reform commission. He explains that it takes five years as a federal employee to earn vested rights in civil service.

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