As more boomers join the ranks of Social Security beneficiaries each year, some pundits and politicians are eyeing the social insurance program as a way to help reduce the federal deficit.
However, AARP’s view is that Social Security is a self-financed program that hasn’t contributed one dime to the deficit and is paid for by workers’ contributions. And that it’s your money – a guarantee you’ll get the benefit you’ve earned and paid in when you retire.
“Our nation’s deficit will undermine the economic security of future generations if left unaddressed,” said AARP Executive Vice President John Rother. “However, any proposed changes to programs or the tax code must look at the impact on real people, not just on projected budget numbers. For example, some in Washington want to reduce the deficit by cutting Social Security benefits. But Social Security is itself vital to the economic security of most Americans today and future generations, and it hasn’t contributed a single dime to the current deficit. So weakening Social Security would hurt our children and grandchildren – the very people we need to protect.”
A Financial Lifeline for Americans, Oregonians
In 2009, just about 53 million Americans received Social Security benefits. Nearly 687,000 of them, or about one in six, were Oregonians.
“Nearly half of Americans ages 65+ would likely be living below the federal poverty level without benefits. It’s more apparent now with a continually tough economic situation how important Social Security is to all levels of society,” said Alan Edwards, public affairs specialist for the Social Security Administration in Oregon. “Social Security has always been around. I can’t see a future without it.”
Mary Lindsley, 83, could be one of those people. She served 35 years as a high school teacher in the Portland Public School system, consistently contributing to the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System (PERS). Since retiring in 1989, she’s had access to her pension and Social Security benefits. And after her husband died in 1992, she’s also been eligible for half of his Social Security benefits.
“While I’m luckier than most people, I still couldn’t pay the rent without Social Security,” said Lindsley.
She said that volunteering at the Hollywood Senior Center she sees far too many seniors who are worse off. “I have several friends that I bring bread and groceries to because they can’t afford to pay $3.50 for a loaf,” Lindsley said.
“If I didn’t get my benefits I’d have to look for work. How many people are going to hire an 80-year-old?” she asks.
Support Is Strong Regardless of Political Affiliation
Numerous AARP and other surveys show that Social Security remains an intensely popular program with voters of all ages, whether conservative, moderate or liberal.
The vast majority believe that Social Security is, or will be, an important pillar of their retirement years. Almost half said they would be willing to pay more in Social Security taxes to ensure that they got all their benefits.
Further, about 85 percent of adults oppose cutting Social Security to reduce the deficit with 72 percent "strongly oppose" doing so.
Our Future: No Immediate Danger
Social Security is in no immediate danger of "going broke."
According to SSA’s Edwards, if things stay constant with more people retiring and more disabilities than ever before, along with less people in the workforce, eventually benefits will not be able to be paid at current rates as it is.
So even without any changes, Rother explained, Social Security will be able to pay 100 percent of benefits until 2037 and more than 70 percent of promised benefits after that. However, paying only 70 percent of promised benefits is not acceptable.
Our Challenge: Addressing the Future Shortfall
To address this long-term shortfall and to ensure that Social Security will always be able to pay adequate benefits, Congress needs to make some small adjustments to the program.
Get More Information and Involved
Find more information from AARP.
To learn about accessing benefits as a widow and numerous other situations, read the “Top 25 Social Security Questions”.
Apply for Social Security benefits.
To join AARP and millions of Americans who say "don’t target Social Security benefits for unfair cuts." Sign the petition.