Chart of the week: Americans want the Social Security benefits they paid for to be left alone

July 19, 2010 | Alex Stone

A new poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center shows that Americans from across the political spectrum: 1) realize Social Security is not responsible for the deficit, 2) believe that preserving Social Security is critical in difficult economic times, and 3) strongly oppose reducing Social Security benefits.

The poll, released by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, surveyed 764 people, asking them about the national budget deficit, benefits, and other possible changes to to the program. One of the questions asked whether participants thought policymakers should make significant changes to Social Security:

“Do you think that policy makers in Washington should significantly change Social Security to reduce the national deficit or should they leave Social Security alone and look at other ways of reducing the deficit?”

Here’s how their responses tallied up:

social security graph

Click to enlarge

Social Security did not cause the current fiscal crisis, and the Congressional Budget Office projects that current payroll taxes will be sufficient to pay full benefits through 2039. The lifetime contributions of hard-working Americans have funded the program for decades, and they have earned those benefits. Social Security can be fully funded after that date by simply by removing the cap on taxable earnings (currently income above $106800 is not taxed for Social Security benefits).

The modicum of economic security provided by Social Security allows retired and disabled Americans to live in dignity — and keep themselves and their families off the streets and out of the poorhouse. Slashing benefits or raising the retirement age for Social Security — as some deficit hawks propose — is actually a recipe for economic disaster for American families. And voters know it.

You can read the entire poll report here.

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Posted in Retirement Security, Social Security

Comments

  1. John Schroy says:

    Well, if I had been asked the same question about social security as in the cited poll, I would have also answered, ‘Tell Washington to keep their hands off”.

    However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t think that social security needs to be reformed, only that I don’t trust Washington to do it.

    Social security expenditures are as large a part of federal spending now as is national defense. Although social security won’t ‘go broke’ until 2039, what exactly does that mean?

    The so-called social security fund (or lock-box) is a fiction. Federal spending money is all fungible.

    I’m not saying that social security reform should be done on a rush basis, willy-nilly, but rather that the issue is extremely important and that responsible leaders should have the courage to address the issue on a bi-partisan basis, trying, over time, to educate the public and reach a more informed, useful consensus.

    • John,

      Technically, there is no answer to your question because it presupposes something that doesn’t exist and isn’t predicted to occur. Generations of American workers have paid into the Social Security Trust Fund since the 1980’s. That Trust Fund is invested in Special Issue U.S. Treasuries, backed by the full faith and credit of the United States. Social Security can’t “go broke” any more than the United States can go broke.

      That Trust Fund is being used as designed — to pay benefits to the now-beginning-to-retire “Baby Boom” generation. When the Trust Fund has been fully spent (currently predicted to occur in 2039), Social Security will revert to a “pay as you go” system, functioning much as it did from the 1930’s through the 1980’s: today’s workers will pay benefits that will keep today’s retirees, children and families out of poverty.

      Even without making any changes now, after 2039 Social Security is projected to be able to pay 75% of benefits indefinitely, based just on workers’ current payroll contributions. But today’s workers currently pay payroll taxes on only the first $106,800 of their wages — which means an office manager pays a greater share of his/her earnings into Social Security than the hedge-fund manager for whom they work. By simply lifting the cap on taxable earnings, Social Security benefits can be 100% funded for at least the next 70 years.

      I do agree with you that our leaders and voters both need more accurate information in order to make decisions that ensure Social Security continues to be a solid economic pillar on which Americans can continue to rely for generations to come.

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