Looming large for 2012 candidates: Social Security

(CBS NEWS) NEW ORLEANS -- Since 1940, Social Security has been etched in stone. In 1945, 42 workers paid into the program for every retiree. But America is aging. By 2033, there will be fewer than two workers paying into Social Security for every retiree. The program could fall 25 cents short for every dollar it owes in benefits.

Mitt Romney says he would not change anything for people already retired or older than 55. But he has proposed a gradual increase in the eligibility age for Social Security -- one month per year beginning in 2022.

Romney told "60 Minutes" that benefits should be reduced for high-income Americans.

"People with higher incomes won't get the same high growth rate in their benefits as people of lower incomes," he said.

President Barack Obama has not outlined a comprehensive plan to overhaul Social Security. He opposes raising the retirement age or privatizing the system.

But the president says he's open to slowing the program's growth by limiting cost-of-living increases.

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In New Orleans, John Altobello's family business sells stone for kitchen remodeling.

"I love what I do," says Altobello, 56. "I show up here every morning and we go to work and enjoy every minute of it."

Altobello, who works six days a week with his wife and son, says he'd like to stay in his job for the next 10 to 15 years.

Altobello is luckier than most. His retirement savings don't count on Social Security.

"All indications are it's going to run out of money," Altobello says. "Maybe not in the near future, but it's coming up fairly close. In my retirement, in my lifetime, it'll end."

Altobello worries his sons -- and younger employees -- will never see a nickel from Social Security. After 72 years on the job, the federal retirement program must change, though no one can be sure exactly how to make it rock solid.

  • Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann was named CBS News Transportation correspondent in August 2011. He has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001, and is based in the Atlanta bureau.

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