Calling Social Security an "entitlement" gets lots of people's dander up.
The word conjures up thoughts of welfare for the down and out, which is 180 degrees away from the way most people view Social Security. They see it as a retirement plan that they and their employers have contributed to out of every paycheck since they started working at age 16.
Of course, that sentiment isn't universal, and some of the people who don't see Social Security that way are in high places. Former Wyoming Republican Sen. Alan Simpson, whom President Barack Obama tapped in 2010 to co-chair the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, wrote a nasty letter last year to critics in which he called older people defending Social Security "greedy geezers" who should be ashamed of themselves for putting an unfair financial burden on younger people.
Is that generation gap Simpson describes a true picture of the national view of Social Security? A study released recently by the National Academy of Social Insurance would suggest that the answer is a resounding "NO."
Here are the results of the nonpartisan research organization's survey conducted in September 2012 of Americans 21 or older. The overwhelming majority say they support Social Security and are willing to pay the taxes it requires.
- Some 84 percent say they don't mind paying Social Security taxes to support older and disabled people.
- About 78 percent say if it weren't for Social Security, they would have to spend money directly to support family members.
- Eighty percent say they pay Social Security taxes because they will benefit from the program themselves.
- Seventy-five percent think Social Security benefits should be increased to provide a more secure retirement for working people.
These same respondents were offered several alternatives that would make Social Security solvent. This package was preferred (even over the status quo) by every age group, including 76 percent of the silent generation, born before 1946; 71 percent of boomers, born from 1946 to 1964; 73 percent of Generation X, born from 1965 to 1979; and 67 percent of Generation Y, born in 1980 and later.
- Gradually, over 10 years, eliminate the cap on earnings that are taxed for Social Security. This would mean that the 5 percent of workers who earn more than the cap ($113,700 in 2013) would pay into Social Security throughout the year, as other workers do, and get a modest increase in their benefits as a result.
- Gradually, over 20 years, raise the Social Security tax rate that workers and employers each pay from 6.2 percent of earnings to 7.2 percent. The rate of increase would be 5 basis points a year. A basis point is one-hundredth of 1 percentage point. A worker earning $50,000 a year would pay about 50 cents a week more each year.
- Raise Social Security’s basic minimum benefit so that someone who paid into Social Security for 30 years can retire at 62 or later and receive a Social Security check that puts him above the official U.S. poverty level.
- Increase Social Security's cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, to more accurately reflect the level of inflation experienced by older Americans.
Jasmine Tucker, income security senior policy analyst for the National Academy of Social Insurance, says Congress doesn't understand what its constituents think on this issue, so the best thing you can do is to write a letter or send an email to your congressional delegation to make your beliefs clear. She says, "People who support Social Security have a stake in this, and they have to be more proactive."