Polls Show Americans Pessimistic About Social Security

Two recent polls show the majority of Americans are worried about having enough money in retirement and are skeptical about President Bush's plan to restructure Social Security.

Bush wants to create voluntary personal retirement accounts and says older Americans would not receive less retirement income under his plan. However, 56 percent of those polled by the Washington Post June 2 to 5 don't believe that, saying their retirement income would go down.

A New York Times/CBS News poll conducted a week later found a similar result. Fifty-one percent of respondents said they did not think Social Security would pay the benefits they expect when they retire. The figure rose to 70 percent for those under 45, the Times reported Sunday.

The New York Times poll also found that 45 percent believed they would rely mainly on their personal savings for their retirement, even though they also said they have a difficult time saving money.

Figures from the Social Security Administration, however, show far more dependence on the government benefit. One-third of Social Security recipients rely on it for more than 90 percent of their income. One-third get half to 90 percent of their money from the program; and a third depend on it for less than half. Without Social Security, roughly 13 million Americans would fall below the poverty line unless they found other sources of income, the New York Times reported.

"Financial assets have traditionally been a very small portion of what people rely on in retirement to support themselves, and there's no indication that will change," said Alicia H. Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

One of the key provisions of Bush's proposal is allowing Americans to voluntarily invest some of their Social Security contributions in the stock market, but the Washington Post poll showed that only 48 percent support that plan. Support for personal accounts drops to 27 percent if it is coupled with a reduction in the growth of guaranteed Social Security benefits for future retirees.

Three-fourths of those responding to the New York Times poll said they considered stock market investments to be "generally risky."

Barbara Amberg of Grand Rapids, Mich., 80, who uses her Social Security payments for “extras,” is one of the skeptics. "Who knows if they can get any extra money out of the market? I just think that's such a foolish idea."


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