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New AARP Poll Finds Appeal of Social Security Private Accounts Drops When Consequences Are Known

Americans seek only modest changes to strengthen the program

If given a choice, three-in-five Americans would strengthen Social Security with as few changes as possible, according to a poll conducted by AARP. The poll also found that the more Americans learn about diverting Social Security taxes into private investment accounts, the less they like the idea.

Two-thirds (66%) of Americans age 30 and above support keeping Social Security as is, including 6 in 10 (62%) Gen Xers ages 30-39. A similar number of leading edge boomers ages 50-59 (65%) and a clear majority (57%) of boomers ages 40-49 agreed.

"A majority of Americans, even younger adults, would like to see Social Security continued substantially as it is today," said AARP CEO Bill Novelli.

"Social Security does need to be strengthened and people accept that fact. On one hand, the public has been told to have doubts about their Social Security benefits. On the other hand, they expect the government to deliver on its obligation to honor those benefits." Novelli added.

More than two-thirds of people under age 50 are not confident that Social Security will be there for them, the AARP poll indicates. But a strong majority of all those polled (83%), agreed that Social Security should be strengthened rather than replaced, and that private accounts would hurt Social Security (60%).

"Most people who are not retired or close to retirement know little about Social Security," said Novelli. "A political undercurrent of uncertainty contributes to support for investing a portion of their Social Security taxes in the stock market. But support falls away the more people learn about private accounts and how they might work," he concluded.

After initial supporters had been exposed to all of the consequences of diverting payroll taxes to fund private accounts, only 10% still favored them. This means, in the context of the entire survey sample, that only 5% favored this approach once the consequences were evident.

The survey found that 43% initially supported the concept of diverting payroll contributions to fund private accounts. But barely a quarter continued to support private accounts if it meant a lower Social Security benefit in retirement. The $1 trillion in additional debt in order to pay Social Security benefits to current beneficiaries reduced support to less than a fifth (18%) of respondents. Leaving responsibility for this debt and for Social Security's current shortfall to our children reduced support even more, to 17%.

"A lack of knowledge about private accounts is a dangerous thing," explained Novelli. When people are exposed to the full details of private accounts, support falls to only 5 percent."

The telephone poll of 1,500 adults aged 30 and over was conducted for AARP by Roper Public Affairs from December 6 through December 23. The margin of error is 3 percentage points.

AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization dedicated to making life better for people 50 and over. We provide information and resources; engage in legislative, regulatory and legal advocacy; assist members in serving their communities; and offer a wide range of unique benefits, special products, and services for our members. These include AARP The Magazine, published bimonthly; AARP Bulletin, our monthly newspaper; AARP Segunda Juventud, our quarterly publication for Hispanic members; NRTA Live and Learn for National Retired Teachers Association members; and our Web site, We have staffed offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.


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