One thing was clear from the first month’s responses to our question about how to fix Social Security: Readers want something to get done.
Only 2 percent of responses were in favor of “doing nothing,” which would mean that after 2033 –when the Social Security trust fund is expected to be depleted– retirement benefits would be cut by 23 percent. And only 3 percent of responses said it would be a good idea to put off raising taxes until after the trust fund is depleted, at which point a steep tax hike would be needed to pay benefits.
“People recognize the problem and that something needs to be done,” says Catherine Collinson, president of the nonprofit TransAmerica Center for Retirement Studies, which conducted a survey earlier this year that reached a similar conclusion.
Only 9 percent of the people surveyed by the center said they would do nothing to reform Social Security. Close to a third, or 28 percent, said they wanted to increase taxes. Fourteen percent said they wanted to cut benefits and another 28 percent said they favored a more balanced approach.
Still, anyone watching the program inch closer and closer to its long-expected funding shortfall might say they’d be happy to see lawmakers take any approach. Social Security hasn’t been changed substantially since 1983, the last time the trust fund was close to zero.
And it’s not looking like lawmakers will have reason to take action any time soon– or at least not for a couple of years. Some analysts think Congress will consider reforming the program in two years when the Social Security disability trust fund is expected to be depleted, leading to a 20 percent cut in disability benefits.
“Historically, you would simply transfer from Social Security, basically kick the can down the road,” says William Hoagland, a senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a think tank based in Washington. “We don’t think that’s going to be as easy this time around.”
There are already some efforts underway. In May, Reps. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and John Delaney (D-Md.) introduced a bill that would create a bipartisan commission to improve Social Security. And the Bipartisan Policy Center, launched a commission in the spring that will create a list of policy recommendations for improving retirement security, including Social Security. Still, it’s not clear if and when those recommendations might lead to change.
By basically rejecting the solutions that called for “passing the problem off to the next generation,” readers suggested that they want to improve Social Security not just for themselves, but for their children and grandchildren. “They would much rather see Congress take action now,” says David Brown, senior policy advisor for the Economic Program at Third Way, a centrist think tank based in Washington.
Readers also seem to support a more balanced approach. For a program that typically divides voters and politicians into two camps, (Raise taxes! Cut benefits!) readers seemed to favor a little bit of each.
Instead, Congress is giving them the exact opposite of what they want: nothing at all.