Relax, Social Security Will Still Be There When You Retire

Last Updated Aug 4, 2011 6:38 PM EDT

Will Social Security be there when you retire? I get this question every time I talk with anybody about retirement planning -- at my retirement planning workshops, when I talk with the media, at family gatherings, and at parties. And it's an especially popular question now that a new bipartisan commission has been created to make recommendations for reducing entitlements, including Social Security and Medicare.

My answer is always the same: As long as we have democracy, we'll have Social Security.
Why do I say this? Social Security is very popular among Americans, as demonstrated by these polls conducted this year:

  • Polls sponsored by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Democracy For America,, and CREDO Action found that over 70 percent of survey respondents in four states were opposed to any reductions in Social Security benefits, even if necessary to reduce the federal debt.
  • The New York Times reports the results of a poll sponsored by AARP that shows 90 percent of survey respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 deemed Social Security to be very important, and almost half said that Social Security is one of the most important government programs.
Now you might argue that the above-mentioned polls were sponsored by liberal organizations and present biased results. However, more than three-fourths of Americans reject the idea of cutting Social Security benefits, according to a poll conducted by the Wall Street Journal and NBC -- not exactly bastions of liberalism.

These results aren't new -- they're consistent with polls conducted over the years.

Simply put, Social Security is one of the most popular federal programs -- ever. As long as politicians need to answer to voters, it will be there in some shape or form. This doesn't mean that Social Security benefits won't get reduced or that taxes might be increased to maintain the viability of the system. But if politicians are hesitant to suggest even modest benefit reductions, then there's no way they will eliminate the program entirely.

So when we watch the debates about possible changes to Social Security, conducted by the bi-partisan committee from the recent debt compromise, keep this in mind: As long as we have democracy, we'll have Social Security.

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    Steve Vernon helped large employers design and manage their retirement programs for more than 35 years as a consulting actuary. Now he's a research scholar for the Stanford Center on Longevity, where he helps collect, direct and disseminate research that will improve the financial security of seniors. He's also president of Rest-of-Life Communications, delivers retirement planning workshops and authored Money for Life: Turn Your IRA and 401(k) Into a Lifetime Retirement Paycheck and Recession-Proof Your Retirement Years.