An alien enthusiast wears an illuminated costume at the annual Alien Festival in Capilla del Monte, Argentina on Feb. 12. (AP/Natacha Pisarenko)

Some people apparently have so little faith in American institutions of government that they believe they are less likely to receive payments from Social Security someday than they are to encounter extraterrestrial life.

"Now there are more 18-year-olds who believe they have a better chance of seeing a UFO than a Social Security check," Ohio Gov. John Kasich said in Thursday night's Republican debate.

Kasich was referring to a poll conducted in 1994 and cited by a number of politicians since then, including President Clinton.

Another, more careful poll found the opposite, but even in that survey, one in three respondents said they were more likely to see a UFO than to get paid by Social Security. Also, in national surveys conducted between 1999 and 2001, those  who were 30 years old at the time said they had just a four-in-10 chance of ever receiving Social Security checks, on average.

To be sure, some young people will be ineligible for Social Security because they won't work enough during their lives to qualify. Generally, Americans must work at least a decade in order to receive benefits, although spouses and members of a worker's family who don't work themselves can also be eligible.

And UFO sightings are not rare in the United States: The National UFO Reporting Center, an online clearinghouse, documented 402 incidents in the month of February alone.

All the same, Americans are almost certain to receive checks from Social Security, even though the program is losing money.

Social Security is paying out about $76 billion in benefits annually beyond what the program collects in payroll taxes at the moment, according to its trustees. That's a lot of money, but there is also has roughly $2.8 trillion set aside in Social Security's trust fund.

If Social Security continues to pay out more than it brings in, those reserves will be used up sometime around 2034 -- right when those born in 1970 who told surveyors they doubted the program would be there for them will be approaching retirement.

Even then, however, beneficiaries would likely continue to receive checks. Social Security would still be bringing in enough in taxes to pay retirees about three quarters of what they are owed, and Congress might simply authorize the Treasury Department to borrow money to make up the difference.

In the meantime, there are plenty of straightforward changes Congress could make to the program to shore it up financially. Congress could modestly increase taxes on future retirees, for example. Democrats often propose asking wealthier Americans to pay taxes more of their earnings, too -- workers only pay taxes to Social Security on the first $118,500 they earn. Republicans typically propose making benefits less generous by increasing the age of retirement or limiting payments to affluent retirees.

[Read more: Democratic candidates want the rich to pay for fatter Social Security checks]

Of course, it's an open question whether Congress will act before aliens visit Earth.