At 63, Deptford resident Beverly Ockimey could have several decades of retirement ahead. But the former administrative assistant said she's only somewhat confident that Social Security will outlive her.
"You don't know what the future holds," she said. "You could have it today, but the politicians could take it tomorrow."
She was among two dozen members of the AARP New Jersey
Woodbury chapter who discussed the importance of Social Security and Medicare at a You've Earned a Say forum in April. Many echoed Ockimey's doubts.
See also: The pros and cons of the Medicare options.
AARP New Jersey has conducted about 15 community conversations throughout the state, inviting people to weigh in with their concerns about Social Security and Medicare and their suggestions to preserve the programs' futures. They are also asked to respond to a questionnaire about the programs.
The goal is to move talks about the programs' future from behind closed doors in Washington, said C. Brian McGuire, AARP New Jersey associate state director of advocacy.
More than 90 percent of New Jersey residents 65 and older receive Social Security benefits. Roughly 15 percent of the state's population is covered by Medicare.
Both programs face long-term financial challenges driven by greater longevity and by the size of the retiring boomer generation.
After 2033, Social Security will be able to pay about 75 percent of scheduled benefits unless something is changed. Medicare's Part A trust fund will run short of money to pay hospital costs within 12 years.
Policymakers and candidates have suggested numerous ideas for changing Social Security and Medicare, including raising the eligibility age for full Social Security benefits, creating a voucher system for older people to buy private insurance instead of using Medicare, changing the cost-of-living adjustment, and increasing the amount of income subject to payroll taxes.
At You've Earned a Say sessions in the spring, AARP representatives outlined the problems facing Social Security and Medicare and asked participants about the importance of the programs to their lives and about their confidence in their long-term futures.