Survey: Workers Concerned About Social Security’s Future

Retirees depend on the 75-year-old program, but are apprehensive about potential changes.

By + More

The Social Security program enjoys strong public support on its 75th birthday, according to a new AARP and GfK Roper telephone survey released today. Most adults say Social Security is an important government program (92 percent), which provides them with financial security that they would not be able to get elsewhere (72 percent). And about three quarters (76 percent) of workers plan to rely on Social Security as a source of income in retirement.

[See 10 Places to Reinvent Your Life in Retirement .]

But many of the 1,200 survey participants age 18 and over also had concerns about Social Security’s finances. Only about a third (35 percent) of Americans expressed confidence in the future of Social Security. Faith in Social Security is lowest among young people between ages 18 and 29 and highest among seniors age 65 and older (58 percent).

Preferred changes. About half of current workers say they would be willing to pay more now in payroll taxes to ensure that Social Security will be there for today’s older people and themselves when they retire. When adults under 50 years old were offered a choice between paying the same amount into the system that they do now and getting a smaller payout than current retirees or paying more into the system for a similar retirement benefit check, over half of workers (57 percent) opted to pay more into the system.

[See 12 Ways to Fix Social Security.]

Most adults (85 percent) oppose cutting Social Security as a way to reduce the federal deficit. Only a third (37 percent) of Americans believe that Social Security currently pays retirees an adequate amount. Half of Americans say payouts are too low. “There is very little support for lowering benefits,” says John Rother, AARP executive vice president for policy and strategy. “The public, by a large margin, would rather contribute at a higher rate and preserve benefit levels than see benefits cut.”

Most Americans (79 percent) think that Social Security should continue to provide a guaranteed benefit. Only 19 percent of citizens support a change to stock market investments that provide higher potential rewards and risks.

Helping others. Most working adults (82 percent) say that, although they might be able to do better on their own, it is important to contribute to Social Security for the common good. Almost all working Americans (91 percent) think it is important to provide payments to disabled people and the children and widowed spouses of deceased workers.

[See 10 Things You Didn't Know About Social Security.]

Most taxpayers (88 percent) say that Social Security checks allow older Americans to remain independent and not have to rely on children and relatives. “There is very broad support for the social function that Social Security plays in maintaining independence and dignity,” says Rother. Most of the survey respondents (80 percent) also say taking care of aging relatives financially would be a burden without Social Security. “Social Security helps relieve the challenges of taking care of older parents,” points out Nancy LeaMond, AARP executive vice president for social impact.

Many of the survey respondents depend on the program. Some 65 percent of adults say their family would be hard hit if Social Security benefits were cut.