6 in 10 Americans Fear They Won't Get a Cent From Social Security

Tuesday, 20 Jul 2010 03:19 PM

By John Rossomando

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Americans are more skeptical than ever about Social Security — with young people fearing they won’t receive a dime and older ones dreading benefit cutbacks, a new USA Today/Gallup poll finds.

Six in 10 Americans who have not retired believe they never will receive Social Security benefits, Gallup reported Tuesday from the July 8-11 poll. The tally — the highest number since Gallup started asking the question in 1989 — also represents stark reversal since March 2001, when 52 percent told Gallup they expected to receive benefits.

Younger Americans overwhelmingly believe they never will receive Social Security benefits. Three-quarters of those ages 18-34 tell Gallup they do not believe they will get Social Security at retirement age, and 66 percent of those between 35 and 54 think likewise.

Meanwhile, 56 percent of retirees tell Gallup they expect to see their benefits cut, flip-flopping the numbers from five years ago, when 57 percent said they expected their benefit levels to continue.

This perception comes at a time when older Americans have relied increasingly on Social Security for a greater percentage of their incomes, as the nation’s economic woes have taken a large bite out of their 401(k) plans and other investments.

The pessimism reflects “the fear and distrust as a result of the financial collapse and the Great Recession has spilled over into people’s expectations generally, that you can’t count on anything,” Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, tells ABCNews.com.

The poll follows on the heels of a recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report indicating that Social Security outlays will exceed annual tax revenues this year for the first time since 1983, when Congress acted to prolong the system. The projection comes on the eve of next month’s 75th anniversary of Social Security.

Social Security will begin running an annual deficit starting in 2016, and the Social Security Administration will not be able to meet its benefit obligations starting in 2039, the CBO says.

“Social Security is the federal government’s largest single program, and as the U.S. population grows older in the coming decades, its cost is projected to increase more rapidly than its revenues,” CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf writes in his blog. “That trend, in combination with the rising cost of the government’s healthcare programs, will lead to sharp increases in government spending relative to the size of the economy, placing the federal budget on a path that is unsustainable over the long term.”

Confronting the politically thorny problem of reforming Social Security has been a lower priority for President Obama than healthcare, cap and trade, and the Gulf oil spill in recent months, Gallup says.

Some analysts expect Social Security’s woes to take a more central role in the political discourse after Obama’s deficit reduction commission delivers its report in December, but making changes could be politically costly.

People overwhelmingly oppose making any changes to the program, according to a U.S. News & World Report story on an opinion poll from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. Options such as raising the retirement age or increasing Social Security taxes remain highly unpopular.

But others contend the program’s red ink could reduce this opposition.

“It makes it easier to make some of the changes we are inevitably going to have to make,” Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Budget, tells ABCNews.com. “We could make all of the changes and still have people collecting more in benefits than they’re expecting to see.”

For the full USA Today/Gallup poll results — Go Here Now.

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