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Social Security: Voices and Values

A lot of Washington politicians are talking about Social Security. It has been tossed around like a political football during the mid-term elections by both political parties. And, the president’s bipartisan Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform is likely to propose changes for deficit reduction.  While insiders and opinion leaders tout the need to cut Social Security, few are paying attention to the impact on everyday Americans.

AARP seeks to put the spotlight back on the voters and taxpayers who make Social Security possible. With support from the Rockefeller Foundation, the project is inviting the news media to observe and question focus groups across the country of everyday Americans talking about their retirement security, how Social Security fits into their retirement, and their concerns about the retirement security of future generations.  Focus groups are a type of qualitative opinion research used frequently by pollsters, campaigns, and marketers that encourage relaxed, candid conversations to elicit how and why people think the way they do. The focus groups should provide meaningful insights into the values and mental frames that regular people bring to this complicated policy debate.

In these sessions, a professional moderator will lead a group of 8-10 people through an hour long discussion about the topic. Participants will be seated around a conference table and news media observers will view the session through a two-way mirror or on closed-circuit video. Questions for the groups will include:

  • What have you done to prepare for your retirement?
  • When did your start planning for retirement?
  • How is/will your retirement funded? What sources of income do you plan to use? 
  • What are your biggest worries about retirement? 
  • Has the economy impacted your retirement?
  • How crucial is Social Security to your retirement?  Why?
  • Are you worried about Social Security as it pertains to your retirement?The average Social Security check for retirees is about $1200 per month. Do you think this amount is too high, about right, or too low? Why?
  • How would you explain Social Security to someone who had never heard of it?
  • What do you think the role of Social Security will be for your children or grandchildren? 

 After the moderator finishes, news media observers may ask their own questions of the focus group or interview participants individually.  Questions from the news media will not be reviewed or edited by AARP. We encourage media observers to use the focus group to probe further on the public’s concerns about retirement and the economy.

In addition, we will release new survey findings on the values and perceptions of Social Security. The research will allow comparisons between the focus groups and the public as a whole. The survey research includes analyses for the nation, women, African-Americans, and Latinos. In addition, breakdowns for California, Florida, New York, and Illinois will be available.

Through this initiative, AARP wants to ensure that thought leaders and the public understand the importance of Social Security to Americans across the country. We aim to include the broader context of Americans’ retirement security in our national discussion around how Social Security may change in order to improve adequacy and solvency of this critical program for current and future generations.

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