FDR signs the Social Security Act on August 14, 1935
This week marks Social Security's 80th birthday, something the Beltway press is marking with headlines like this one, from The Hill
: "Poll: Majority not confident in future of Social Security
." That's how ingrained the narrative that Social Security is in mortal danger has become and papers like The Hill
are happy to keep repeating.
But when you actually look at the survey results from AARP, which commissioned the poll, you get a very different story. The core themes they identify coming out of their poll are these:
Social Security remains a core part of Americans’ retirement security
Four in five adults (80%) rely on Social Security, or plan to rely on it, in the future as a source of retirement income. In fact, a third (33%) say it is the source of income that they rely on or plan to rely on most during their retirement. […]
Social Security continues to be popular across generations
The majority of Americans (66%) view Social Security as one of the most important government programs; and this view has remained consistent over time (i.e., in 1995, 2005, 2010 and 2015). The vast majority of Americans (82%) also believes it is important to contribute to Social Security for the common good. […]
Americans want to live independently
Four in five adults (83%) say it is extremely important for them to be able to live independently in their home for as long as they want. […]
Challenges with saving for retirement underscore the importance of the program for future generations
While Americans recognize the importance of financial planning, many often find it difficult to save for retirement. Obstacles to saving include having to focus on current financial needs (69%), and not having enough money left over after paying their bills (47%). Three in five Americans (64%) have concerns that they won’t be able to live independently as they age. Three in five also express concern that Social Security won’t be enough to get by on (65%) and won’t be there for them when they retire (64%). Top concerns also include having a major health care expense that could wipe them out financially (69%) and not having enough savings to last their lifetime (68%).
Out of all that, what's making news is the 64 percent concerned that Social Security won't be there when they retire. But there's so much more when you dig into the guts of the poll
[pdf], like how 61 percent of those surveyed think Social Security payments are too low; that 82 percent of people who aren't retired yet think "it’s important to continue to contribute to Social Security for the common good"; that 68 percent of non-retirees say "I would be willing to contribute more to Social Security to make sure it will be there for me when I retire; and how just 26 percent of non-retirees think that benefits should be cut to shore up the system.
For too many years, Republicans and the Very Serious People have been working to undermine public confidence—and support—of the program and too many Democrats have been too afraid to buck the conventional deficit peacock wisdom to turn the argument around. That's finally changing, witnessed by the fact that Hillary Clinton is now talking about raising the payroll cap on high earners. She hasn't yet come around to the conclusion that the majority of Americans and Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley have reached—that benefits have to be increased—but indications are that she's working her way there. This survey showing where mainstream America really is on Social Security, should help her get there.