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AARP Survey Finds Public Confidence and Reliance on Social Security Increase as Program Celebrates 70th Anniversary

Capitol Hill Rally to Mark the Anniversary

To coincide with the 70th anniversary of Social Security, AARP today released a new survey that tracks public perceptions about Social Security over three decades. Not only has public confidence in Social Security increased in recent years according to the poll, but Social Security has also surpassed pensions and savings as the top source of income Americans expect to rely on in retirement.

The survey, titled Social Security 70th Anniversary Survey Report: Trends over Time, repeats previous surveys conducted by AARP for the 50th (1985) and 60th (1995) anniversaries of Social Security. While all the previous surveys demonstrated the high regard that the American public has for Social Security, this latest installment shows that Americans are becoming increasingly informed about the program and are aware of the role it plays for beneficiaries. The survey shows an increase of 8 percentage points among those who consider themselves to be at least fairly well informed between 1995 (70%) and 2005 (78%). This may be a result of the very public debate about the future of Social Security.

Key survey findings include:

  • 2005 Social Security Anniversary Survey data demonstrate that the primary focus on personal or private accounts during 2005 has broadened and strengthened positive attitudes towards Social Security rather than weakened them.
  • In fact, when asked which sources of retirement income on which they plan to rely, Social Security is rated a very close second to money accumulated through savings and investments. Further, Social Security is ranked as the most important source of income respondents expect to rely, or actually do rely upon, in retirement. Nearly one in three (30%) either currently rely most on Social Security for retirement income or plan to rely on it most.
  • A 5 percentage point increase in the number of Americans who lack confidence that they could do better on their own investing the money they put into Social Security - from 39 percent lacking confidence in 1995 to 44 percent in 2005.
  • Increased agreement between 1995 and 2005 (from 78% to 83%) with the statement, "Social Security provides financial security for the people I know who receive it; without Social Security they would really suffer." The percentage of those who agreed completely increased from 53 percent in 1995 to 60 percent in 2005.
  • Agreement with the statement that everyone who pays into Social Security should receive it no matter what income they have increased 6 percentage points in 2005, to 81 percent, with almost two-thirds agreeing completely.
  • Nearly three-quarters (73%) of non-retired respondents in the 1995 survey and three-quarters (75%) in the 2005 survey reject the option of getting out of the Social Security system if offered the choice and say they should stay in and support the system.
  • Approximately 9 in 10 non-retired Americans agree (91% in 1995 and 88% in 2005) that "Maybe I won't need Social Security when I retire, but I definitely want to know it's there just in case I do."
  • Whereas in 1985, 43 percent of non-retirees said that the statement, "I'm worried that I may not have enough money to get by on when I retire," very much described themselves, in the 2005 survey only 33 percent agreed with this self-characterization.
  • The percentage of those who consider themselves to be very well informed about Social Security nearly doubled between 1995 (14%) and 2005 (24%).

AARP's Policy Director John Rother said, "Despite the heated debate — and maybe even because of the debate — about Social Security this year, Americans continue to value the certainty of Social Security's benefits, a clear argument for improving the program's solvency for our children and grandchildren."

To mark the Social Security anniversary, AARP will hold a rally on Capitol Hill today with other supporters of Social Security solvency. The Association has collected more than 1.5 million petitions from members who oppose private accounts that drain funds from Social Security.

AARP commissioned a survey research firm — GFK-NOP — to conduct the national random digit dial telephone survey of 1,200 adults, age 18 and above. A total of 929 respondents were non-retirees and 271 were retired. Interviews were conducted between July 18th and July 26th of 2005. For additional details about the survey's methodology and to view a full copy of the report visit www.aarp.org.

AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization that helps people 50+ have independence, choice and control in ways that are beneficial and affordable to them and society as a whole. We produce AARP The Magazine, published bimonthly; AARP Bulletin, our monthly newspaper; AARP Segunda Juventud, our bimonthly magazine in Spanish and English; NRTA Live & Learn, our quarterly newsletter for 50+ educators; and our website, www.aarp.org. AARP Foundation is our affiliated charity that provides security, protection, and empowerment to older persons in need with support from thousands of volunteers, donors, and sponsors. We have staffed offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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