Biweekly Public Opinion Roundup: Social Security's 75th Birthday

Having reached it's 75th birthday, Social Security cuts are now being considered by the federal deficit commission.  Survey data shows, however, that this action is wildly unpopular with a majority of Americans, as Social Security has historically held high levels of public support, and continues to do so.  People have doubts about the program's solvency in the long-term, and this is an issue that needs to be addressed in a meaningful way.  Americans are against using the Social Security fund to reduce the federal budget deficit, showing that, despite difficult economic times, the social contract and programs that contribute to the common good are salient.

According to a recent survey by CNN, 55% believe there will inevitably be cuts to benefits eventually, showing a substantial increase from 32% in 2005.  In addition, 60% believe  the Social Security system will not be able to pay them benefits when they retire, and 62% opine that it is somewhat or very unlikely that the Social Security system will last another 70 years.

Despite doubts about Social Security's solvency, the AARP Social Security 75th Anniversary Survey - the fourth installment in a series of surveys on Social Security - shows consistently high public support for the program over time:

•63% of respondents believe Social Security is one of the most important programs of government; 65% believed so in 2005
•80% agree completely (52%) or somewhat (28%) that they are glad to have Social Security as taking care of parents financially is too much of a burden without it; 57% believe it is a way to build financial independece in retirement
•83% agree completely (63%) or somewhat (20%) that everyone who pays in to the system should recieve benefits no matter what other income they have, underscoring the importance of the program's universality
•Although 59% agree with the notion that that they could do a lot better on their own investing the money they pay into Social Security, 82% agree completely (52%) or somewhat (30%) that it is important to continue to contribute to Social Security for the common good

The AARP survey also reflects the public's concern over the need to strengthen social security so that it will continue to pay full benefits for the long-term.  A majority (57%) would opt to pay more in to Social Security so that the benefits can remain the same, rather than reduce benefit payments.  The Social Security Administration projects that the Social Security trust fund will be exhausted in 2037 - 21% take this to mean that the fund will not be able to pay any benefits, 21% understand (accurately) that Social Security benefits will be paid at a reduced level, and 58% don't know what this means (despited the fact that 70% believe they are very or fairly well informed on the way Social Security works).

According to the AARP poll, 85% oppose (72% strongly) cutting Social Security spending to help reduce the federal budget deficit. On this topic, a recent NBC News Wall Street Journal survey finds that a majority of Americans (62%) have reservatiosn about or are very uncomfortable with supporting a candidate running for office that favors phasing out Social Security.

This is consistent with a recent survey by Democracy Corps and Campaign for America's Future, showing that 67% of Americans would prefer not to make major spending cuts in Social Security due to the federal deficit. In addition, 66% oppose raising the retirment age for Social security to 70 years.  Further, there is broad support (61%) for eliminating the cap on Social Security payroll taxes (requiring that households earning more than $107,000 pay the same rate as everyone else), indicating the desire for workable steps towards finding a meaningful solution to reducing the fund's projected shortfall.

The fact that a vast majority of Ameicans prioritize Social Security over deficit reduction perhaps indicates that, despite messages in the media to the contrary, people realize there is no connection, and there shouldn't be a connection, between the two.  Social Security is funded independently of other government programs, and does not contribute to the deficit.  To blur this line breaches the social contract, and renders useless one of the most effective and successful government programs in US history.  Instead, workable solutions should be proposed, and steps should be taken to ensure that the fund remains solvent, so that future generations can benefit from Social Security.

Tags: public opinion, security, Opportunity (all tags)


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