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Poll finds growing public worry about Social Security

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More than eight in 10 Americans now see the country’s Social Security system as headed for a crisis, and most think a major overhaul is in order, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Overall, 81 percent of those polled see Social Security as veering severely off-course, up 10 percentage points from 2005, when former president George W. Bush led a push to privatize the government-run program. And since that time, public support for specific changes has risen, but remains tepid.

The new poll comes as another survey shows Americans’ slumping confidence in their ability to achieve a comfortable retirement. In the poll by the Employee Benefit Research Insitute, a record high 27 percent of workers said they’re “not at all confident” they’ll have enough money when they retire. Most still expect Social Security to be a source of income in their retirement.

But similar to a poll six years ago, in the new Post-ABC survey, only one of six possible ways to avoid a potential shortfall in Social Security – removing the cap on income subject to its dedicated tax – tops the 50-percent-mark, and barely so.

There is, however, increased support for some possible changes.

There’s been a 12-percentage-point spike in the number advocating a reduction in the benefit guarantee for future retirees (although to a still small 32 percent), a 10-point jump in backing for a further reduction in benefits for early retirees and a nine-point boost in raising the retirement age by one year.

Changing the benefits calculation to slow increases now draws about as many supporters as opponents (45 to 48 percent), a shift from 2005, when opposition neared 60 percent.

In 2005, Democrats in Congress were preferred to Bush on the issue by a dozen points. Now, 44 percent side with the Republicans in Congress when it comes to dealing with Social Security; 42 percent put more faith in President Obama.

The parity comes from lower Democratic support for the president on the issue, compared with Republican backing of the GOP (70 vs. 83 percent). Political independents prefer the president on the issue, 48 to 34 percent.

Beyond partisan leanings, age plays a big role in public opinion. Fully 58 percent of seniors advocate raising the retirement age, compared with 35 percent of those aged 40 to 64. Similarly, older adults are the least supportive of slowing the growth of retirement benefits.

This telephone poll was conducted March 10 to 13, among a random national sample of 1,005 adults. The results from the full poll have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

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