Poll: Social Security No Crisis

US President George W. Bush over US Social Security card, 2005/2/2 AP

Although George W. Bush continues his campaign for Social Security reform, Americans have other domestic issues on their minds. They recognize problems with the current Social Security system, but support only a limited set of solutions.

As for themselves, while most say they won't rely on Social Security for their retirement income, many admit they aren't saving very much on their own to pay for retirement.

HOW BIG A PROBLEM?

Americans admit Social Security is in trouble, but few think the program is in crisis. 17% describe Social Security as being in a crisis today; 38% say the program is in serious trouble financially. Another 37% think the program is in some trouble, and 5% say Social Security is not in any trouble.

SOCIAL SECURITY'S FINANCIAL SITUATION:

Now

In crisis
17%
Serious trouble
38
Some trouble
37
Not in trouble
5

2/2005

In crisis
15%
Serious trouble
46
Some trouble
46
Not in trouble
46

Those aged 65 and over are the least likely age group to say Social Security is in crisis.




Given a list of five domestic priorities, Americans place Social Security at the bottom. Health care is ranked first, with 28% choosing it. It is followed by education (22%) and jobs (20%). The budget deficit and Social Security are tied at 14% each.

WHICH ONE IS MOST IMPORTANT?

Health care
28%
Education
22
Jobs
20
Budget deficit
14
Social Security
14

Still, 57% of Americans do think Social Security's problems need to be addressed right now instead of in the future. 36% say the problems are serious but do not need to be fixed for another 10 to 15 years. Hardly any say they are not very serious.

PROBLEMS WITH SOCIAL SECURITY ARE:

So serious need to be fixed now
57%
Serious, but can be fixed in 10-15 years
36
Not serious
4




On a personal level, two-thirds say the future of Social Security matters a lot to them. Another 23% say it matters to them somewhat.

HOW MUCH DOES SOCIAL SECURITY'S FUTURE MATTER TO YOU?

A lot
66%
Some
23
Not much
7
Not at all
4




Majorities in all age groups say Social Security's future matters a lot to them, including 74% of those aged 45 to 64, who registered the highest concern of any age group. By a 20-point margin, more Democrats than Republicans say the future of Social Security matters to them a lot.

When it comes to the future, and the prediction that in 2041 the system will only be able to pay three-fourths of the benefits now promised to Americans, 48% are very concerned about this and an additional 32% are somewhat concerned.

One reason for their concern is that most continue to doubt – as they have for many years – that the Social Security system will have the money available to provide the benefits they expect for retirement.

SHOULD THE GOVERNMENT PROVIDE A DECENT STANDARD OF LIVING FOR THE ELDERLY?

Yes
80%
No
16




HOW CAN IT BE FIXED?

In this poll, the public was asked about a number of options for addressing the solvency of Social Security. Their reactions to those options have much to do with their own self-interest: options that would adversely affect higher-income people receive the most support.

63% favor raising the $90,000 limit on income subject to Social Security tax withholding if it is necessary to keep the Social Security program paying benefits as it does now.

In addition, 59% of Americans find it acceptable for future Social Security benefits to grow more slowly than they do now for middle- and high-income people, with benefits growing as scheduled for low income people. But more than a third find this unacceptable.

When asked specifically about people with incomes of $100,000 or more, 66% favor letting that group's future benefits grow more slowly.
However, when asked about slowing the growth rate of benefits for people earning incomes of over $20,000, a figure specifically referenced by the President, more than six in ten oppose it.

Other ideas garner little support. 54% oppose increasing the percentage of income withheld for Social Security, while
41% favor that idea. Two-thirds oppose raising the retirement age.

OPTIONS FOR CHANGING SOCIAL SECURITY


Raising $90,000 income limit

Favor
63%

Oppose
30%


Having benefits grow more slowly for people with incomes of $100,000 or more

Favor
66%

Oppose
29%

Having benefits grow more slowly for people with incomes of $20,000 or more
Favor
31%

Oppose
61%

Increasing Social Security tax rate

Favor
41%

Oppose
54%

Raising retirement age

Favor
30%

Oppose
67%




ALLOWING PEOPLE TO INVEST SOCIAL SECURITY TAXES ON THEIR OWN


Overall

Good idea
45%

Bad idea
50

If money in accounts could be left to children

Good idea
71%

Bad idea
22

If people could earn more money for retirement

Good idea
59%

Bad idea
31


If guaranteed benefits are cut

Good idea
22%

Bad idea
69

If set-up costs are $2 trillion

Good idea
12%

Bad idea
78




AMERICANS AND INVESTING

About half the public has at least some confidence in their ability to make good investment decisions, and the number rises among those with higher education and incomes.

CONFIDENT IN YOUR ABILITY TO MAKE GOOD INVESTMENT DECISIONS

Very
13%

Somewhat
34

Not very
26

Not at all
24

But there is concern, not just for themselves but for most Americans, about allowing individuals to make personal investment decisions with part of their Social Security taxes. 46% think that if people are allowed to invest some of their Social Security money on their own, most would lose money. Just 18% say most people would make profits. Three in 10 think most would break even.

WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF PEOPLE WERE TO INVEST S.S. MONEY ON THEIR OWN?

Most would make profits
18%

Most would suffer losses
46

Most would break even
28

People confident in their own ability to make good investment decisions are more likely than those who aren't to believe that other Americans would also make profits on Social Security investments. Most people who are not confident in their own abilities think other Americans would suffer losses.

Similarly, a majority of Americans who are confident in their ability to make good investment decisions support the idea of personal Social Security accounts. Those with little or no confidence oppose the idea.

However, 74% of adults say the stock market is a risky investment. Even those who are confident in their own investment decisions agree.

IS INVESTING IN THE STOCK MARKET GENERALLY…

Safe
21%

Risky
74
  • David Hancock

    David Hancock is a home page editor for CBSNews.com.

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