Social Security card and money

Fifty-one percent of pre-retirement American adults in the 50-to-64 age group are very concerned about the Social Security system, Gallup reported Friday.

In contrast, only one-third of young adults expressed a great deal of concern about the system.

Gallup conducted telephone interviews during the first week in March with a random sample of 1,041 adults living in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The data showed that 44% of Americans worry a “great deal” about Social Security, 28% a “fair amount,” 17% “only a little” and 10% “not at all.”

Gallup said these findings came just as Social Security recipients will receive the biggest cost-of-living adjustment in six years, adding, however, that for many these increases will be offset by higher Medicare premiums.

Social Security ranked in the middle of a list of 15 issues or social problems respondents to rate in the March poll. Americans remained most worried about the availability and affordability of health care, it said.

Last month, the U.S. Senate passed the Social Security Beneficiaries Act to make annual grants to each state’s protection and advocacy system.

Varying Levels of Worry

Gallup noted that the percentage of older pre-retirees in the survey who worried a great deal about the Social Security system was smaller than the 59% record highs recorded in three-year rolling averages for 2009 to 2011 and 2011 to 2013.

Younger adults in the survey also recorded slightly lower averages than in recent years, and 11 percentage points lower from 2007.

Concern about Social Security has ebbed among retirement-aged Americans as well, with 46% expressing a great deal of worry, down from an average of 56% for 2010 to 2012, Gallup reported.

As for Americans in the 30-to-49 age bracket, the percentage expressing a lot of concern about Social Security has held steady in the range of 46% to 52% since 2005, according to Gallup. In the current poll, 49% said they worried a great deal.

Unsurprisingly, majorities of Americans with annual incomes of $30,000 or less have consistently reported a great deal of concern about the Social Security system since 2005, peaking at 62% in the average for 2009 to 2011. The current 53% who worried a great deal just about matches the low recorded in the 2007 to 2009 average, Gallup said.

A new proposal from three retirement economists would mandate contributions to new savings accounts to offset the impact of filing early for Social Security benefits.

Worries among higher-earning groups have been much more stable: within a range of 47% to 53% between 2005 and 2018 for respondents with annual household incomes between $30,000 and $74,999, and 40% to 44% for those with annual incomes of $75,000 or more.

In the current survey, 47% of the former and just 39% of the latter said they were very worried about Social Security.

Gallup said that although Americans’ level of worry about the Social Security system has abated, the program’s financial solvency is in jeopardy, as it faces long-term sustainability challenges.

No politician, it said, wants to tackle changes to Social Security to ensure its continuance. Efforts by the George W. Bush and Obama administrations came to naught.

The question of how to fund the Social Security system and whether to make adjustments to the program will undoubtedly return at some point, Gallup said, and Americans’ worries about it could return to their post-recession levels.

— Related on ThinkAdvisor: