Social Security

52 Percent of Young Americans Favor Social Security Opt-Outs Even If It Reduces Current Benefits


The vast majority of Americans (64 percent) have a favorable view of the Social Security program, with 25 percent who are very favorable, according to Reason-Rupe. However, delving deeper, it is less clear if Americans approve of the mechanics of the program's operation. Most Americans (52 percent) view Social Security as a retirement fund workers pay into to finance their own future benefits. Since the program was first established over 70 years ago, Americans have approved of the ostensible goal of Social Security as retirement savings. However, others would argue the program is run more like a transfer program where workers pay for the retirement benefits of current retirees without claim on the money they contribute. Only 38 percent of Americans perceive Social Security as the latter.

Conflicting attitudes about Social Security were reflected when Americans were asked to describe Social Security in one word. The most frequent response at 17 percent was that the program was a helpful or good program, but the second most frequent response (12 percent) was that the program was unstable or unsustainable. Other perceptions of the program included that the program was necessary or vital, a sham or hoax, mismanaged, or reliable.

After these initial questions were asked, Americans were given additional information about the current status of the program according to the Social Security Administration. First, they were told that Social Security currently pays out more than it collects in taxes, and that without any changes the Social Security Trust Fund would be depleted by 2033, possibly resulting in a benefit reduction of 25 percent or more. Knowing this, 57 percent of Americans favored changing the way benefits are calculated so they increase at a slower rate than they do now. This is in line with proposals to use chained CPI to calculate benefit increases.

After learning that the Trust Fund would be depleted by 2033, Reason-Rupe also asked Americans if they thought it was more important to maintain the current level of Social Security benefits for seniors, even if it required major tax increases (47 percent agreed), or maintain the current level of taxes, even if it required major Social Security benefit reductions by only paying benefits to seniors in financial need (37 percent agreed). In sum, if Americans face the trade-off between fully funding Social Security benefits with higher taxes or reducing benefits to maintain the current level of taxes, they favor raising taxes. But, the trade-offs continue.

When Americans then learn that they will eventually get back less in benefits than they paid in taxes, 57 percent oppose raising Social Security taxes and 62 percent favor allowing workers to opt-out of the program.

The real trade-off facing Social Security then, is if people are willing to raise taxes to maintain Social Security benefit levels even if they get back less than they paid in, or maintain tax rates and eventually reduce Social Security benefits. When these trade-offs are faced the public does not coalesce around a solution. When asked if they supported allowing younger workers to opt-out of Social Security taxes and benefits if it required only paying benefits to seniors in financial need, 44 percent favored and 48 percent opposed, within the survey's margin of error. Facing a different trade-off, 55 percent opposed reducing benefits for all seniors in order to allow younger workers to opt-out of the Social Security program.

When facing this trade-off, younger and older Americans significantly diverge in their policy response. Even when faced with the trade-off of reducing benefits to current seniors to allow younger workers to opt-out of Social Security, a majority (52 percent) of Americans under 35 favor the proposal. In stark contrast, 62 percent of Americans over 35 oppose the proposal. Instead, if allowing younger workers to opt-out of Social Security meant only paying Social Security benefits to seniors in financial need, then 60 percent of Americans under 35 favor the proposal, while a majority (53 percent) of Americans over 35 oppose the proposal.

While a majority of Americans under 35 favor opting out, a majority (51 percent) also say they are currently saving for retirement, but typically wait until about 30 to begin saving. Among young people who report saving, most are saving about 10 percent of their annual incomes. Most Americans under 35 make less than $45,000 a year.

Young Americans are far more likely than older Americans to believe that seniors have greater average wealth than young Americans. Nearly a fifth of Americans under 35 believe senior households are wealthier than non-senior households—only 6 percent of seniors agree. Instead a majority (54 percent) of seniors say their households are on average less wealthy than non-senior households, compared to 34 percent among Americans under 35.

These results paint a complex picture of Americans' attitudes about Social Security. Those who have already paid in expect to receive promised benefits, those currently paying in are less eager to do so if they believe they may not get that money back.

Nationwide telephone poll conducted May 9-13 2013 interviewed 1003 adults on both mobile (503) and landline (500) phones, with a margin of error +/- 3.7%. Princeton Survey Research Associates International executed the nationwide Reason-Rupe survey. Columns may not add up to 100% due to rounding. Full poll results found here. Full methodology can be found here. Demographics and detailed tables are available here.

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  1. So many young Americans have stock in cat food companies, it would seem. Poor grandma.

    1. seemed like better investment than ice floes

    2. Isn’t cat food more expensive than Mickey D burger?

  2. Next time, maybe add a question about means testing benefits.

    1. Or just ask voters. Since old people vote, the numbers will be quite different, I’m guessing.

  3. I would absolutely sign up for a program that let me stop paying social security, and return get nothing in retirement. I fully expect to get nothing at that point anyway, so I might as well not have it stolen from me for decades before that.

    I would also sign up for a program that forced writers to use alt-text or give up their potential social security benefits.

    1. And you can keep the thousands of dollars I have already paid in. I won’t ask for any of that back.

      1. same. that was my “fair share” or whatever.

        1. Silly prole, only Obama and Company gets to decide what is your ‘fair share’.

        2. Imagine if there was an opt out option after your ‘fair share’. Say at 30?

          1. The whole program is illegal. I was forced to join when I was a minor to start working. I didn’t know what I was doing.

          2. I ran the numbers on that a year or so ago, with the assumption that my wife and I stopped contributing at 30. i stopped before i finished, because it was just pissing me off. and we just turned 35, so it wasn’t like I had a lot of years on the after 30 side.

      2. Agreed. They were more or less direct transfer payments to my grandparents. Now we cool.

        1. and the grandfolks can always remember you in their will if they have not done so already. And the circle of money continues.

          1. Too late for that. None of my grandparents ever had much and they lived long enough to die expensively. I mean, I’m not bitching about the money, but my father’s mother was the most frugal person in the world. If she knew it was going to cost her children $8k/month for 5 years to have her cared for in a home with her mind gone already, she would have jumped in front of a train. I’m pretty sure my dad has a plan for that eventuality.

            1. “children $8k/month for 5 years to ”

              this is the worst .. well one of the worst aspects of the ACA. it does nothing to address end-of-life care.

              1. What happened to the budget saving death panels? Don’t tell me Republicans torpedoed those too.

            2. ouch; dementia. I feel for you. Been there, did that with my mom. She would have had the same reaction as your grandmother.

              1. Eh. At least her kids had done well enough they could afford to put her up after she went through her assets. I have a friend who isn’t that lucky, and she has shared that she really hates herself on the days when her dad asks her (because he isn’t really sure who she is, but he’s running on instinct) 45 times in a row,”what’s your favorite TV show?” And the 25th time she starts making shit up so as not to strangle him.

                1. both my grandmothers had the same condition.
                  for my maternal grandmother one doc wanted to go to tube-feeding when she could no longer swallow. I told him it was unconscionable to do that to somebody. her situation was never going to improve. it just would have kept her technically alive. we yanked her from the facility and she died the next day at home in her sleep.

                  1. for my money, hands down the shittiest way to watch someone go. My dad had cancer but was lucid right to the end. Watching someone become someone you don’t know, and they don’t know, sucks.

        2. Except direct transfer payments to your grandparents would have been cheaper and more efficient.

      3. Yep – I’d sign up for the same thing – “stop stealing from me and you can even keep what I’ve already put in…and I’ll take nothing on the other end.”

        And I’m 51 – still think I’d be better off.

    2. I would, too. I could invest that money for the next twenty years or whatever I have to keep working and get more than I’ll get from SS.

    3. What happens when you didn’t safe enough for retirement ?

      1. The safe-makers will just have to get other jobs.

        1. wishful thinking.

          The tax payer (the working youth) will just support them with a Social Security Program with another name.

          1. Whoooosh

  4. Also, why no more pictures or video interviews of Emily with these posts? What’s reason trying to hide?

    1. Maybe she’s getting Lucy’d?

      1. She can always fall back on her job at Cato.


        1. Lucy! Lucy! Lucy!


    2. I don’t know Fisty, don’t you have any news on the restraining order front to share with us?

  5. In other news 48% of young Americans are unable to do basic math.

    1. Looks like they are better at math than the old Americans.

  6. 52% of young Americans need to check their youth privilege.

    1. He said sarcasticly, not realizing the truth he foreshadowed.

  7. i thought the title said “flavor” and decided social security opt outs would taste like chocolate cake

    1. I’m imagining Everlasting Godstompers…or Wonka Bars…

      1. Er….GoBstoPpers…WHATEVER.

        Although “Everlasting Godstompers” would be a pretty good name for Satan Metal band.

  8. Social Security is a good Idea.
    It is a tax and not insurance.
    Once someone dies before collecting any benefits, they lose it.

    This is fine. The workers pay for the disabled and the retired.

    The problem I have with the current system is two fold:
    – There should be no FICA Cap (this would significantly reduce the current 15% due per worker)
    – There should be a means test and those who have assets that render more than two times the median income should NOT GET cash benefits.

    Other than the above, I think it is fine.

    I disagree with those that claim it will not exist in the future. The only way it would not exist when I retire is if there were no young workers. At that point, I think it doesn’t matter.

    1. Utilitarianism is for dummies.

  9. Jo Manny Mo mo said no way dude that makes no sense at all man.

  10. And, ONCE AGAIN, the missing point is that it took many decades to dig this hole and polls like these don’t ever examine ways to fill the hole over a reasonable length of time!

    Sure! Allow anyone to opt out of SocSec, but if they’ve been in it for half their “working life,” they get half the projected benefit, and likewise, proportionally to whatever fraction of their working life they’ve been paying in, from 10% to 90%…

    So if you’re just out of school, you can take FULL responsibility for your “retirement benefits” on your own shoulders by signing a contract to that effect.

    If you’re 40, you can opt out with a 50% or so guarantee ONLY, and if you think you can take the money and invest it better, GO FOR IT!

    I wish I could have done this when I started work, but I couldn’t even opt out of my company’s pension plan, which, after ten years with that company, is today worth about two or three large pizzas a month in “benefits.”

    At least I might have made some investing mistakes I could have learned from in my 20s instead of making bigger ones with my after-tax dollars in my mid-30s.

    But no, so long as “everyone” believes that government MUST take care of everyone (forgetting that “government money” is nothing more than our own tax dollars… ALWAYS), nothin’ gonna change.

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