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Social Security and Medicare Benefits Out of Bounds for Fixing Federal Deficits

NORC’s AmeriSpeak® Omnibus: Questions on Federal Budget Deficit

Americans have earned their Social Security and Medicare benefits after years of working and paying taxes into the two programs. These programs are critical to tens of millions of workers and retirees who rightfully expect Congress to be careful stewards of their earned benefits.

With rising debt levels primarily due to legislative changes in the past five years, including the COVID-19 response, some are once again seeking to target Social Security and Medicare to help pay down the debt. Targeting Social Security and Medicare to pay down the national debt is the wrong approach and is strongly opposed by older Americans, regardless of party affiliation. A full 85 percent of those 50 and over strongly oppose reducing Social Security and Medicare to help reduce the federal budget deficit.

While older Americans care about the nation’s long-term fiscal health, we also know they want to make sure the promises made to all Americans regarding Social Security and Medicare are honored. Indeed, Social Security and Medicare had little to do with the recent run-up of debt and deficits in the wake of COVID-19. In fact, Social Security provided a stable source of income, and Medicare provided critical health coverage, at a time when it was most needed. Rather than being part of the problem during the pandemic, Social Security and Medicare have been a big part of the solution. These key programs should not be seen as budgetary scapegoats for an increase in debt they did not cause.

Social Security is the only inflation-protected, guaranteed source of income people can count on when they retire. It is the principal source of income for more than 34 million older households, and roughly 10 million individuals age 65 and older depend on it for nearly all of their income. Medicare provides the critical health coverage that seniors rely on and need. Over 62 million Americans are covered by Medicare, and half of all beneficiaries have less than $27,000 of income.


This nationwide poll of 1,016 adults ages 50 and older utilized NORC’s AmeriSpeak® Omnibus, a monthly multi-client survey. Interviews were conducted in English online (90%) and by phone (10%) from April 22 through April 26, 2021 and included three AARP questions on federal budget deficits. Data are weighted to the latest Current Population Survey (CPS) benchmarks developed by the U.S. Census Bureau and are balanced by gender, age, education, race/ethnicity, region and AARP membership. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.33 percent with a design effect of 1.99.

Funded and operated by NORC at the University of Chicago, AmeriSpeak® is a probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. household population. Randomly selected U.S. households are sampled using area probability and address-based sampling, with a known, non-zero probability of selection from the NORC National Sample Frame. These sampled households are then contacted by U.S. mail, telephone, and field interviewers (face to face). The panel provides sample coverage of approximately 97% of the U.S. household population. Those excluded from the sample include people with P.O. Box only addresses, some addresses not listed in the USPS Delivery Sequence File, and some newly constructed dwellings. While most AmeriSpeak households participate in surveys by web, non-internet households can participate in AmeriSpeak surveys by telephone. Households without conventional internet access but having web access via smartphones are allowed to participate in AmeriSpeak surveys by web. AmeriSpeak panelists participate in NORC studies or studies conducted by NORC on behalf of governmental agencies, academic researchers, and media and commercial organizations.

A general population sample of U.S. adults age 50 and older is selected from NORC’s AmeriSpeak Panel for each Omnibus wave, excluding any panelist that completed the previous wave.  The sample for a specific study is selected from the AmeriSpeak Panel using sampling strata based on age, race/Hispanic ethnicity, education, and gender (48 sampling strata in total). The size of the selected sample per sampling stratum is determined by the population distribution for each stratum. In addition, sample selection takes into account expected differential survey completion rates by demographic groups so that the set of panel members with a completed interview for a study is a representative sample of the target population. If panel household has one more than one active adult panel member, only one adult in the household is eligible for selection (random within-household sampling). Panelists selected for an AmeriSpeak study earlier in the business week are not eligible for sample selection until the following business week.

For more information, contact Rachelle L. Cummins,, or Thomas Nicholls, For media inquiries, contact

Suggested citation:

Cummins, Rachelle L. and Thomas Nicholls. NORC’s AmeriSpeak® Omnibus: Questions on Federal Budget Deficit, Washington, DC: AARP Research, May 2021.

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