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On Social Security’s 80th Birthday, Americans Still Love It

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On signing the Social Security Act on August 14, 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “We can never insure 100% of the population against 100% of the hazards and vicissitudes of life, but we have tried to frame a law which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against the loss of a job and against poverty-stricken old age.”

Eighty years later, Social Security remains critical to the financial protection of current and future generations of Americans, and is popular across generations and political ideologies, according to a survey released this week by AARP. The survey found that Americans want to live independently, and that challenges around saving for retirement underscore the importance of the program for future generations.

Several themes emerged from the survey.

First, Social Security remains a core part of Americans’ retirement security. Eighty percent of respondents said they relied on the program, or planned to do so, in the future, as a source of retirement income, and 33% said it was the income source they would rely on most in retirement.

Fifty-seven percent completely agreed that Social Security provided financial security for all Americans, and that those who count on it most would really suffer without it. As well, the programs enables older Americans to remain independent, 53% said.

Second, Social Security continues to appeal to all age groups.

Two-thirds of survey participants viewed Social Security as one of the most important government programs—a view that has remained consistent over time, AARP said in a statement. Eighty-two percent also said it was important to contribute to the program for the common good. Younger adults, particularly those in the 30–49 age bracket, expressed less confidence in the future of Social Security than older adults, yet they still valued the program. Ninety percent of adults under 30 said Social Security was an important government program, and 85% wanted to know it would still exist when they retired.

Third, Americans want to live independently.

Eighty-three percent of respondents said it was extremely important for them to be able to live independently in their home for as long as they wanted, but 64% worried that they would not be able to do so as they aged. In addition, while 68% thought it was extremely important to have family around, 80% said they wanted to be financially self-sufficient so their children or other family members would not have to support them. 

Fourth, many Americans face challenges in preparing for retirement.

Although Americans recognize the importance of financial planning, many often find it hard to save for retirement, the survey found. For 69% of respondents, having to focus on current financial needs was an obstacle to saving, for 47% it was not having enough money left over after paying their bills and for 39% a major health need or family problem. 

Sixty-four percent of respondents expressed concerns that they would not be able to live independently as they aged. Sixty-five percent worried that Social Security benefits would not be enough to get by on, and 64% that the program would not be there for them when they retire.

Other top concerns included having a major health care expense that could wipe them out financially, and not having enough savings to last their lifetime. GfK Roper conducted the national random-digit-dial telephone survey in June of 1,200 adults aged 18 or older, 717 of whom were not retired and 483 were retired.

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