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Social Security At Center Stage

Clinton administration officials say Wednesday's closed-door meetings with lawmakers on Social Security's future are just a warm-up for difficult negotiations yet to come.

"The purpose of the sessions are to see what it's going to take to reach common ground," said Social Security Commissioner Kenneth S. Apfel. "It's clearly a challenge."

One of the country's biggest money questions came up Tuesday at the White House Conference. The issue: how best to ensure that Social Security doesn't go bust when the baby boom generation retires. Without changes, the nation's retirement program is expected to run short of cash by 2032, after more than 75 million baby boomers begin collecting benefits.

CBS News Correspondent Jerry Bowen looks beyond the numbers at people who'd be most affected if the system changes.

The Ortiz family of west Los Angeles is typical in many ways. There are two children, and both parents work. Julian is a mechanic. Rosario is a travel agent.

Like tens of millions of other Americans banking on Social Security, they are worried.

"If it's not there, there's something wrong with the system," says Julian.

When Julian and Rosario reach retirement age, the system they pay into every week will be out of money unless changes are made.

"It's unfair. We're paying dues now and then when we're going to need it we're not going to have it," worries Rosario.

It's a problem of fewer and fewer workers paying into the system as the country's 76 million baby boomers move into retirement. The fund will be depleted and Ortiz family doesn't trust Washington to fix it. They'd rather do it themselves, investing some of their pay roll deductions into individual accounts.

"So you have more control. You work hard for your money, so you want to do something. You want to have control of it. I think it's great. I'd really go for something like that," says Rosario.

On Tuesday, plans to fix the system were reviewed from the White House to regional meetings: lower benefits, higher taxes, and individual accounts, which critics warn are risky, were all under consideration.

"I guess the downside is that the average individual is not educated well enough, I don't believe, to understand the intricacies and the emotionality and the psychologies that are involved with investing," says Financial Planner David Bergmann.

The Ortiz's, who are trying to save for education costs and their first house, say that includes them. They want something done.

"The Social Security thing, it's kind of scary because we'd like to enjoy our life after taking care of the kids. We want to have something to look forward to," says Julian Ortiz.

Just like tens of millions of others. Julian and Rosario are not alone. But the options for refinancing Social Security are limited, and any change to the government's biggest benefit program is likely to be unpopular.

Reported By Jerry Bowen