As a telephone company manager and later a bank teller, Ruby Perry paid plenty — in some years, the legal maximum — of payroll taxes into Social Security. Now that she's retired, she sees her contributions coming back in the form of a secure and steady retirement income.
See also: How to tune-up Social Security.
The 71-year-old suburban Dallas resident said she's confident her Social Security benefits, as well as her Medicare coverage, will be there for the length of her retirement. But she is concerned the programs won't be as reliable for her two daughters and three grandchildren.
"I see what's going on," said Perry. "I'm afraid they are going to have less."
Perry was among a group of 30 people who attended a You've Earned a Say session at the AARP Cedar Crest chapter. It was one of dozens of community conversations AARP Texas is conducting across the state to gather ideas on how to strengthen the nation's bedrock health and financial security systems.
"They're part of a national effort to hear what people say and think about the programs and to hear firsthand about the importance of them," said Tim Simmons, manager of state operations at AARP Texas. "We are really hoping we can send a good message to all of Congress that these are important programs. Fix them. Keep them."
Financial problems loom
Both programs face shortfalls as boomers retire and as health care costs continue to rise. If nothing is done, Social Security is expected to pay full benefits until 2033 and about 75 percent after that. Medicare's hospital trust fund will be exhausted in 2024.
Washington is not expected to seriously consider changes to the programs until after the November elections. But presidential and congressional candidates, as well as other interested groups, have proposed a variety of changes that would have far-reaching effects.
Among the ideas that have been suggested are raising the age for full Social Security benefits, increasing the income limit for payroll taxes, changing cost-of-living adjustments and restructuring Medicare.
The stakes are high in Texas, where there are 3.4 million Social Security beneficiaries and 3 million people covered by Medicare. Nearly half of those Texans collecting Social Security benefits rely on them for at least 50 percent of their income. Without Social Security, about a third of Texans 65 and over would fall below the poverty line.
Trying to reach all Texans
Simmons said AARP Texas and its volunteers are working to reach all Texans with You've Earned a Say sessions, which is a challenge in such a large and diverse state. "We're not only talking to people 50-plus but to 40-year-olds and college kids, all sorts of different groups," he said.
Susan Williams, associate state director for AARP Texas, said reaching out to younger generations is an important part of the effort. She recently spoke to students in their 20s at Collin College in Plano about the future of the two programs. "The view was, 'It's not going to be there for us. We're not going to see it,' " Williams said.
At the AARP Cedar Crest chapter session, Perry said the programs would be in better hands, and their futures assured, if politicians in Washington were affected by them personally. "If they had to live on what we have to live on, they'd take more stock in it," Perry said. "They'd make it more important."
Thomas Korosec has been a journalist in Texas for more than 20 years.
Also of interest: What's in store for Medicare?