Nearly three-quarters of Americans worry that Social Security checks won’t see them through retirement while 57 percent lack confidence in the future of the program, according to a new survey by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).
The August 14 survey (pdf), released 85 years after The Social Security Act brought the program into existence, sought to gauge how important Social Security is to Americans, the degree to which they rely on it as a source of retirement income, and how worried they are about its future.
The nonprofit, which has some 38 million members nationwide, found that 74 percent of Americans are concerned that Social Security won’t be enough for them to get by on. Told that the current average Social Security retirement benefit is $1,503, nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of respondents responded by saying it’s “too low,” 32 percent said it’s “about right,” while 3 percent said it’s “too high.”
And while a majority of Americans (82 percent) told AARP pollsters that they will rely on Social Security at least somewhat for their retirement income, fewer than half (39 percent) said they do now—or will in the future—rely on the program as their main source of retirement income. For 34 percent of respondents, the most important source of retirement income is money from a retirement account they contributed to, like a 401(k) plan.
The findings also showed that the wave of unemployment in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis has elevated the importance of Social Security in the minds of respondents, with 56 percent of Americans saying it’s more important now than before the pandemic.
“It’s crystal clear that Americans of all generations value the economic stability Social Security has offered for the last 85 years—even more so as we face the health and economic challenges of a global pandemic,” said Nancy LeaMond, AARP executive vice president, in a statement.
Broken down across age groups, confidence in Social Security is more or less similar for Americans aged 18-29 and 50-64, but it drops sharply for those between the ages of 30-49.
Of the 43 percent of Americans overall who felt either very or somewhat confident in the future of the program, most cited the program’s legacy (“it has been around for many years”), followed by consistency (“it has always paid its benefits”), and then faith in the country’s leadership (“trust the government to keep its promises”).
The reason most often cited for lack of confidence in the future of Social Security, a worry expressed by 57 percent of Americans, was “do not trust the government to keep its promises,” followed by “think the money is running out,” and then “politicians have taken money from the program in the past.”
The survey also found that 96 percent of Americans said Social Security is an important program and 82 percent somewhat or completely disagreed with the statement that “Social Security is driving up the nation’s budget deficit and should be cut to protect America’s future.”
According to the 2020 annual report of the Social Security Board of Trustees, the trust funds from which retirement, disability, and other Social Security benefits are paid out will run out of money by 2035. After exhausting its cash reserves, the system will be able to disburse only what it takes in year-to-year in Social Security taxes, which the board estimates will be roughly enough to cover 79 percent of retirement benefits.
President Donald Trump has sought to reform the program by reducing entitlement outlays and make the Social Security trust funds last longer.
Trump recently floated the idea of a permanent cut to payroll taxes, some of which fund Social Security, and slashing capital gains taxes. However, the president insisted this would have no impact on Social Security.