On the eve of congressional elections, a new nationwide survey finds that only job creation trumps protecting Social Security on a list of issues important to voters age 40 and over.
This group views the future viability of Social Security as more critical than cutting the federal budget, reducing health care costs or lowering taxes for the middle class, according to the survey commissioned by AARP with support from the Rockefeller Foundation.
The vast majority of voters, whether conservative, moderate or liberal, believe that Social Security is or will be an important pillar of their retirement years, the survey found. Almost half said they would be willing to pay more in Social Security taxes to ensure that they got all their benefits.
The survey, which polled 1,206 people by telephone between Sept. 24 and Oct. 10, also found that only 19 percent of respondents are very confident they'll have enough money to live comfortably throughout their retirement.
Gloria Madrid, 61, reflects the anxiety of many older Americans. She says she used to feel sure that she and her husband had the resources to enjoy a comfortable retirement with a few frills now and again. She envisioned retirement as "a time when we had the ability to do more things."
The financial meltdown of 2008 dented the couple's stock portfolios and 401(k) retirement plans — "it's now a 101(k)," jokes Madrid, who lives in Los Alamitos, Calif. Now she finds herself putting off home remodeling and wondering whether the Social Security benefits she earned during her career at the telephone company will actually see the couple through retirement.
"I never thought I'd be relying on Social Security to help me pay my taxes, and now I'm not sure I can count on it," she said. "I really thought I was prepared for the money aspect of retirement, but as I've moved along the years I realize I'm not really prepared."
In the survey, 44 percent of respondents mentioned job creation as their first or second issue of personal concern, while 39 percent mentioned protecting Social Security. The numbers show some gender differences, however. These two issues were both mentioned by 45 percent of women respondents. Men showed more concern for job creation, with 44 percent of them citing it compared with 32 percent for whom protecting Social Security was a high priority.
What will our children get?
The survey also found that 52 percent of respondents had little or no confidence that Social Security will be there for as long as they need it, while 75 percent said they have little or no confidence that their children and grandchildren will enjoy a secure retirement.
As Madrid put it, "The younger generations, they all will have huge college bills and won't know whether Social Security will be around for them."
With President Barack Obama's deficit reduction commission scheduled to report on Dec. 1, AARP decided to survey voters and conduct focus groups across the country before the new Congress convenes in January and confronts a looming federal deficit, explained AARP Executive Vice President Nancy Leamond.
"We want to understand how real people see the issue," said Leamond, because the money-saving options debated in the next Congress are sure to include increasing Social Security payroll taxes, reducing benefits to retirees or raising the age of retirement. The poll showed that Social Security benefits represent an important component of economic security for many older Americans, not just for low-income citizens, she said.