While Social Security continues to provide vital economic support to millions of disabled and retired individuals, children, and widows, there are long-term funding concerns which need to be addressed to keep the program fiscally sound for generations to come. The opinions of ordinary Americans should be of paramount importance in the continuing debate over proposed changes to Social Security. In other words: what solutions are favored by the people who would be most affected by any change to the current system?
A recent study published in October 2014 by the National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI) sought to answer this question by asking what potential changes to Social Security Americans favor, and what they are willing to do to pay for it. Unsurprisingly, the survey found broad support among the American public for Social Security, and that people are willing to pay to support the program “because they value it for themselves (73%), for their families (73%), and for the security and stability it provides to millions of retired Americans, disabled individuals, and children and widowed spouses of deceased workers (81%).”
After establishing that the public supports the Social Security program by wide margins, NASI then asked the respondents how they would prefer to improve the program’s finances over the coming years. The survey gave a number of different options to the participants, and then used a “trade-off” analysis to determine which combination of options would be preferred by a large majority. The conclusion was that Americans would broadly support 4 changes to Social Security which would put its long-term finances on more solid footing:
- Over a period of 10 years, eliminate the cap on earnings that are taxed for Social Security, which would affect only the 6% of American workers who earn over $117,000 per year.
- Over a period of 20 years, raise the Social Security tax rate currently paid by employees and employers from 6.2% to 7.2%. (According to NASI, this would mean a worker “earning $50,000 a year would pay only about 50 cents a week more each year, matched by the employer”)
- Increase Social Security’s cost-of-living adjustment (COLA)
- Raise Social Security’s minimum benefit for those who paid into the system for 30 years, so that early retirees receive yearly benefits above the federal poverty line ($11,670 for 1 person)
The NASI concludes that this combination of changes was “preferred over the status quo by 7 in 10 survey participants across generations, income levels, and political party affiliations.” These changes are projected to close Social Security’s long-term financing gap by 113%, which would also provide a “margin of safety” in the program’s fiscal outlook. For those that have been following the debate over the future of Social Security, these results make sense. Social Security is the most successful social insurance program in history. It has provided vital support and dignity for millions of Americans since its inception. With only small changes like those outlined above, it can continue to provide that support for the coming generations
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