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Retirement Planning > Social Security > Social Security Funding

New Study Finds Broad Bipartisan Support for Social Security Fixes

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What You Need to Know

  • Large bipartisan majorities favored options that would eliminate most of the Social Security shortfall.
  • Most respondents favored raising the retirement age.
  • Most supported cutting benefits for top earners and a higher threshold for wages subject to payroll tax.

Large majorities of surveyed U.S. voters favor options for reforming Social Security — including boosting revenue, reducing benefits for high-income earners and raising the full retirement age — that together would eliminate most of the government retirement program’s projected shortfall, according to a new study.

Wide support for the changes cross party lines.

The University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy, in a public policy consultation conducted earlier this year, briefed 2,545 Americans on issues facing Social Security, offered them different policy options, gave the pro and con arguments and asked the participants to choose solutions for reforming the program, as policymakers would.

“The degree of bipartisanship is really striking,” said Steven Kull, director of the school’s  Program for Public Consultation, who presented the findings Thursday on a webcast hosted by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “There was basically bipartisan agreement on every proposal.”

All majority-supported proposals combined would reduce the anticipated Social Security shortfall by 78% and delay by decades the Social Security Trust Fund’s insolvency, now projected for 2035. These include certain proposals that would raise benefits and therefore add to the shortfall.

Large bipartisan majorities supported a set of proposals that would cut the projected Social Security shortfall by 95%, according to the study, which engaged with a respondent sample provided by Nielsen Scarborough.

When participants looked through the proposals, Kull said, “they actually did find a lot of common ground.”

Participants were given options to raise the full retirement age, increase the payroll tax, raise the amount of wages subject to payroll tax, cut benefits for high-income earners, increase the minimum benefit for those who have worked for 30 years, boost benefits for those 85 and older, and enhance benefits by changing cost-of-living adjustments to reflect items older people tend to buy.

“Every approach to reducing the shortfall was selected by large bipartisan majorities, though in every case where there was a range of options, the most moderate one was chosen by the largest number. This was true overall, for Republicans and Democrats, as well as those in very red and very blue congressional districts,” the report said.

Among the national survey results, which have a margin of error of 1.9 percentage points:

  • Eight in 10 respondents supported subjecting all annual wages over $400,000 to the payroll tax, which would eliminate 61% of the shortfall. This includes 8 in 10 Republicans, nearly 9 in 10 Democrats and more than 7 in 10 independents. Payroll taxes are currently capped at $147,000 of income. (Wages between $147,000 and $400,000 wouldn’t be subject initially, but eventually all pay levels would be taxed.)
  • Nearly 3 in 4 participants supported raising the payroll tax to at least 6.5% from 6.2%, which would cut 16% of the shortfall. Seven in 10 Republicans and independents and nearly 8 in 10 Democrats favored this proposal.
  • Three in 4 of those surveyed, including Democrats and Republicans, supported raising the retirement age from 67 to least 68, which would cut the shortfall by 14%.
  • Eight in 10 favored lowering benefits for the top 20% of earners, including nearly 8 in 10 Republicans and independents and close to 9 in 10 Democrats. This would cut 11% from the shortfall.
  • Nearly 2 in 3 supported raising the minimum monthly benefit for those who have worked for at least 30 years to $1,341 from $951, which would increase the shortfall by 7%. This includes nearly 6 in 10 Republicans, 7 in 10 Democrats and more than 6 in 10 independents.
  • A slight majority, including small majorities of Republicans and Democrats, favored increasing benefits for those 85 and older by about 5%, which would increase the shortfall by 5%. (Only about 4 in 10 independents supported this idea.)
  • A modest majority also favored changing COLA calculations to reflect the goods and services that older people tend to buy, which would boost the shortfall by 12%. Nearly half of independents supported this idea.

Social Security accounts for at least half the income for half of beneficiaries, while it provides at least 90% of income for one-fifth of older Americans,  according to the University of Maryland report.

Social Security trustees expect the program’s trust fund, which has run at a growing deficit since 2010, to be insolvent by 2035, noted Marc Goldwein, senior vice president at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. 

If the fund becomes insolvent, Social Security recipients could see a 20% to 25% benefit cut across the board, Goldwein said on the webcast, noting that the program faces demographic pressures, among other issues. This year’s high inflation could hasten the insolvency timeline, he said.

“A relatively small number of workers are going to be supporting an increasingly large number of retirees,” he said. 

“The problem is getting worse because we’ve been waiting to fix it,” Goldwein said, suggesting that smaller cuts now can make solutions more feasible than if policymakers delay. 

For workers, it may also be time to rethink retirement and consider alternatives to fully and suddenly stepping away from the workforce, such as phasing in retirement and embarking on encore careers or consulting work, Goldwein said.


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