Social Security and Public Opinion

Issue Brief | June 1, 1999

Executive Summary

Social Security is one of the most popular, successful and worthwhile government programs ever, according to the American public. Americans give unwavering support to Social Security in its current form. However, one in four people incorrectly think that the Social Security trust fund will go bankrupt within ten years if no action is taken to reform the program. In reality, Social Security will continue to pay full benefits through 2034, and after that, without any changes to the program, it will pay a minimum of 65-75% of benefits through 2075.

Seventy-one percent of Americans think shoring up Social Security should be a top policy priority. Polling results do show an initial receptiveness to the rhetoric of privatization. However, Americans overwhelmingly oppose:

  • reductions in guaranteed benefits;
  • increases in the retirement age;
  • increases in Social Security taxes;
  • and limits on cost-of-living adjustments that link benefits to inflation.

What most Americans don’t realize is that every major privatization proposal includes some combination of raising taxes, cutting guaranteed benefits, undermining economic security and diverting funds from actual benefit payments into the hands of Wall Street. The benefits supported so strongly by the American public cannot be maintained outside of the current Social Security program.

Polls show that the American public supports the single purpose of Social Security: to provide a strong, simple, shared and efficient form of basic insurance for workers against the adversities of old age, disability and dependency. The only way to guarantee that Social Security continues to fulfill this role is to strengthen and expand the current program.


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