President Bush brought his campaign to restructure Social Security to a Fairfax County community gym yesterday, taking the stage to hold conversations with five young local workers who fear that the system will have gone bust by the time they retire.
Bush has said that the Social Security system must be fixed because it is headed for bankruptcy by 2041, and he used the viewpoints of the young panelists to illustrate his point. Each of the workers -- including a financial planner, an analyst at Verizon and a Web developer -- revealed doubts about the 70-year-old program's future, and Bush commended them for preparing for retirement by investing in other ways.
President Bush talks about his plan with, from left, Yuctan Hodge, Kristin Seitz and Olivia Mitchell on a stop in Fairfax County.
(James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post)
"We've got citizens sitting up here saying, 'I don't think the system is going to be there for me,' " Bush told the crowd of about 500 invitees at the James Lee Community Center near Falls Church. "It's an interesting dynamic that people in Washington must pay attention to. In other words, they're saying, 'We've got a problem.' "
The event was the last of a 60-day national tour intended to build support for Bush's proposal to allow workers to divert a portion of their Social Security taxes into private investment accounts. Recent polls show that two of three Americans disapprove of the way the president has handled the issue, however.
Many at the event, which was hosted by the Northern Virginia Technology Council, were workers younger than 40 from the region's high-tech corridor. A group of students from the Potomac School in McLean also was invited.
Bush quizzed the young workers on stage about their retirement investments, seeking to highlight the ease and virtue of workers managing their own money as they would under his proposal for private Social Security accounts.
Yuctan Hodge, a Web developer and entrepreneur, told Bush how he had opened a Roth IRA to provide for him in later years. Hodge said he knows "Social Security won't be around."
"Don't you like the idea of people paying attention to their assets and watching them grow?" Bush asked the crowd after hearing Hodge's story. "I think it's an incredibly fantastic opportunity to spread that opportunity throughout our entire society."
Whatever the financial projections for the Social Security system -- critics say Bush's analysis is misleading -- the panelists who were chosen to converse with Bush on stage, as well as several audience members, said they assume that the Social Security system they are paying for now will not be around forever.
"I don't believe I will have Social Security," said Kirsten Edmondson Wolfe, 36, a marketing executive for a high-tech firm, who was in the audience. "My concern is that Congress will raise my payroll taxes."
"I have noticed, since this is my first full-time job out of college, how much money is taken out of my paycheck each pay period for Social Security -- that I may not see when it comes to my retirement," Kristin Seitz, 23, executive coordinator for the Northern Virginia Technology Council, told the president.
"It's the biggest tax a lot of people pay," Bush responded. "And younger Americans are saying, 'I'm not so sure I'm going to see it.' . . . Some youngster told me about the survey that said many young people are -- think it's more likely they're going to see a UFO than get a Social Security check."