Conservative Republicans are fond of labeling Social Security an entitlement, but they can forget about ever doing away with it.
Social Security celebrates its 80th anniversary next month and is featured in a cover story in the July/August edition of the AARP Bulletin. The magazine reports that doubts continue to swirl over Social Security’s future.
The Bulletin states, “Only 10 percent of Americans ages 25 to 69 are ‘very confident’ they’ll get as much as the program delivers today, and 18 percent believe they’ll get nothing, the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) 2015 Retirement Confidence survey found.” But doing away with Social Security would be political suicide — “84 percent of Democrats and 69 percent of Republicans agreed it is ‘critical to preserve benefits, even if that meant increasing taxes.”
Young adults (1 in 4 millennials) initially say Social Security won’t be around when they’re eligible, however, a Pew survey found last year that 61 percent are against any cuts.
Part of the reason is Americans, particularly baby boomers, haven’t saved for old age. The Bulletin reports that “almost half of working-age households have nothing saved in a retirement account, according to the National Institute on Retirement Security.” A recent survey also showed that about 4 in 10 older adults have less than $25,000 in retirement savings.
Data like that shows why a growing number of people have to depend on Social Security even though the average monthly benefit is only $1,180. Social Security historically is behind older Americans being lifted out of poverty.
The Bulletin reports that Social Security provides at least half the family income for about 1 in 2 older adults and most of the income for 1 in 4 senior Americans. In part, that’s because other financial supports for retirement have weakened in recent years,” the Bulletin notes.
The number of single-employer defined-benefit pension plans fell from a peak of more than 112,000 in the mid-1980s to about 23,000 in 2013.
“Plans such as 401(k)s and individual retirement accounts have proved inadequate for most people,” the Bulletin reports. “Counting part-time workers, only about half the labor force even has access to a pension or retirement savings plan through an employer.”
The only fall-back for a lot of Americans is Social Security. Women depend on it more than men do. “One study found that unmarried boomers were almost five times more likely to be poor than married boomers,” the Bulletin notes. Today’s high divorce rate has left a lot of formerly married couples on their own in old age.
Social Security’s challenged will be to stay afloat. It now has a $2.8 trillion surplus, but that will be gone in 2033. Some tough political decisions will have to be made to keep Social Security going at least another 80 years.
But the numbers show that it is what the people want and need.