Finally, it appears there’s something that almost everybody in America’s body politic agrees about – the value of the Social Security System. Old or young, rich or poor, Republican or Democrat, there’s widespread agreement that Social Security is a very good thing – and that it’s worth paying higher taxes to improve benefits and make it even better.
A new multigenerational survey conducted by independent research firm Greenwald & Associates on behalf of The National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI) examined public support (or lack thereof) for the kinds of changes that will be necessary to ensure the system’s financial integrity beyond 2033. The program has sufficient funds to pay full benefits until then. But after that, without raising revenues and/or reducing benefits, incoming revenue from payroll taxes and taxation of benefits would cover only about 75 percent of scheduled benefits.
Today’s policymakers are faced with the challenge of choosing among options to increase Social Security’s revenues, improve benefit adequacy or reduce future benefits. To better understand Americans’ preferences regarding those options – and what kinds of trade-offs they are willing to make to keep the retirement system solvent– NASI commissioned a survey of 2,013 working and retired Americans ages 21 and older in June 2014. The survey was conducted online and included an innovative application of trade-off analysis.
Key findings of the study, entitled Americans Make Hard Choices on Social Security: A Survey with Trade-Off Analysis, show that Americans value Social Security and are willing to pay for it:
The survey respondents were presented with a range of potential policy changes to accomplish those goals. The study’s trade-off analysis shows that the great majority of Americans – 71 percent – support a package of changes that would eliminate Social Security’s financing gap (and actually produce a small surplus), increase the system’s revenues, and pay for benefit improvements.
The package they preferred would:
This package trumps the status quo by large majorities of seniors in the so-called Silent Generation, born before 1946 (76 percent); Baby Boomers, born from 1946 to 1964 (71 percent); Generation X, born from 1965 t0 1979 (73 percent) and Generation Y, born in 1980 and after (67 percent).
The package was endorsed by large majorities across political parties and income levels. Fully 68 percent of Republicans, 74 percent of Democrats and 73 percent of Independents favor the package, as do 69 percent of those with incomes under $35,000 and 71 percent of study participants in income groups from $75,000 and above.
The individual findings of Americans Make Hard Choices on Social Security: A Survey with Trade-Off Analysis should be of immense value to policymakers as they grapple with the tough decisions for preserving Social Security that lie ahead. At a time when the nation seems deeply divided about the appropriate size and role of government, Americans across political, generational and income lines not only strongly support Social Security, but also support specific options to strengthen the program for the future.