As the clock ticks toward the Aug. 2 deadline for reaching an agreement to raise the U.S. debt ceiling, nearly two-thirds of respondents to the RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll favor making changes to rein in Social Security benefits-which could emerge as part of a final budget deal.
Social Security currently accounts for 20 percent of federal outlays. In a recent annual report, its trustees said total expenditures in 2010 were $713 billion, with some 54 million Americans receiving benefits.
While 35 percent of respondents said they do not favor any cuts to Social Security benefits, 20 percent support limiting benefits for the wealthy and 19 percent support an increase in the age at which people are eligible to receive full retirement benefits. More than one-quarter of respondents said they favor both those measures.
Another option some have suggested is having the wealthy pay more. Nearly half of respondents-46 percent-said they support requiring higher-income workers to pay Social Security payroll taxes on all of their wages, as opposed to the current wage cap of $106,800. A much smaller percentage, 7 percent, said they back increasing payroll taxes for all workers, and 12 percent favor both measures.
This compares with slightly more than one-third who said they do not support higher payroll taxes to fund Social Security.
More than 815 readers participated in this week’s poll, which was conducted July 18 and 19.
Do you support cutting Social Security benefits to help rein in federal spending?
I support limiting benefits for the wealthy: 20%
I support an increase in the age at which people are eligible to receive full retirement benefits: 19%
I support both: 26%
I do not support cuts to Social Security benefits: 35%
Do you support higher payroll taxes to fund Social Security?
I support requiring higher-income workers to pay Social Security payroll taxes on all of their wages (the current wage cap is $106,800): 46%
I support increasing Social Security payroll taxes for all workers: 7%
I support both: 12%
I do not support higher payroll taxes to fund Social Security: 35%
Last I looked, I am paying for Social Security out of my paycheck along with my employer. It adds up to a lot of my paycheck going to my future retirement, which the government is always threatening to cut. Taxes are way too high as it is, and most of our tax dollars are directed toward an outrageous defense budget. Reduce the bloated defense budget/spending, stop propping up foreign governments and give tax dollars back to the people through job creation in the areas like energy, U.S. infrastructure, innovative school programs, etc.
I have paid into the system for 43 years but do not need Social Security to retire comfortably. I would willingly forgo this benefit under the condition that the politicians would use that money to reduce the deficit and not dream up new ways to spend and waste it.
—Don Tomeny, B&L Wholesale Supply Inc.
Stop paying benefits to people who never contributed to Social Security! Stop paying benefits that have nothing to do with retirement. Social Security is not an “entitlement.” It is payment received for 50 years of paying in. Ditto for Medicare.
—Harry Caruso, Caruso Asset Management
It is immoral to balance the budget on the backs of those with little or no cushion to absorb such a blow. Social Security taxes need to be brought up to date and the total income of all needs to be taxed. It seems ludicrous that a wage earner making $50,000 will be taxed on every dollar earned, but wealthier people are exempted from bearing greater responsibility for their great prosperity. It’s time to quit giving America’s wealthy lifetime free rides while punishing those living on subsistence Social Security payments. May I also suggest that until the Republicans and Democrats (in Congress) find a way to resolve their differences, their pay be suspended and donated to the deficit?
—Linda Gallagher, Rochester
The cost-of-living adjustments automatically assumed at all levels of government need to be examined and scaled back to only those who need them. Let us old people control inflation with our purchasing decisions.
It only seems fair to update the program based on changes in longevity and incomes. We seem to be able to adjust benefits based on “cost of living” but cannot face the fact that we need to adjust the “cost of benefits” as lifestyles and longevity change.
—Eric Muench, president, Genesistems Inc.
I think there should be a new tier (as New York State is doing to its pension system) for new contributors. I think current workers’ benefits should be kept as is. Reform is also needed badly. Did you know that a person married for 10 years, then divorced, is entitled to a substantial portion of the former spouse’s benefits (so long as they never remarry)? I could conceivably marry and divorce many times, and an ex-spouse who never worked can collect! Where did that come from? And survivors can collect, too. I submit that if the payer was the only one able to collect from his accounts and the “parasites” were eliminated, then Social Security would be solvent! That was the original intention, after all.
—George Thomas, Ogden
I do not support cutting what is due to those who put into the program. What should be done is to cut the fraud and unnecessary overhead.
The Social Security system has been a significant part of the bedrock of our country’s socio-economic structure for more than 70 years. The biggest problem with it is that the government has raided the piggy bank of the funds paid in by employers and employees. No government money goes into the piggy bank. It should be inviolate because the “contract” between workers and the government was that we would pay in so that we could draw out. Retroactively changing the contract is not an option. However, we do face the challenge to the basic tenet of funds from current workers supporting current retirees. The assumption in the design of the plan is that there would always be somewhat of a balance between the number of workers paying in and the number of retirees drawing benefits. The huge number of people in the baby boomer generation on the verge of drawing benefits compared with the smaller current workforce has changed the validity of this assumption. This is why we need to raise the wage cap.
—Bob Volpe, president of EKRA, an association of Kodak retirees
Social Security needs to track the average life expectancy of the population better. When it was first introduced, 65 was at the top of the life expectancy; now people can routinely expect to make it to 65 and beyond.
Cutting benefits to the existing elderly and disabled is not an option. We can raise the income cap on FICA, make a couple small increases to the tax rate, and raise the retirement age to 67 for those younger than 40 and 68 to those younger than 30 and 69 to those younger than 20, reflecting longer life spans and much lower workforce population when they reach their 60s. We can still have early retirement at lower benefits options.
I guess I’m somewhat confused as other pundits claim that Social Security can continue paying out as it has been until 2037. I believe the wealthy, however they are defined, should pay more into the system or not receive as many benefits. I also believe that the average worker should pay into the system for a longer period. I also believe the government should not be allowed to raid the system to make up for shortfalls in their budget. So I guess it’s unclear where the problem lies but I do believe we can make more gains in savings by cutting waste full programs that do nothing for the country in today’s economic climate. We can also gain from eliminating aid to mature countries or those that are trying to kill us and subsidies for extremely successful companies. In addition we should make sure that all salaries and benefits for public employees are reasonable and that all government. Workers/representatives pay for and receive the same benefits as the average worker. I don’t think anyone will do these things because politics will not let them.
I’ve paid in my whole life, recently learned that what I paid was not deductible and again recently that distributions are taxable? Not to sound too stupid, but I thought I was "taxed" into something worthwhile that did not distribute to illegals who never paid in a penny from the general fund no less. Damn the Democrats who ruined a potentially good program!
—Daniel Mossien, architect
Taking more taxes out of one’s pay check is not the answer to this problem. There so many overlapping expenditures that can be cut from the budget it’s almost laughable but Washington has been looking for any excuse to cut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security for a long time because these programs are the ones right in front of the line. Washington should be looking at the programs that are wasteful and can be cut rather painlessly; not the ones that are going to hurt those on a fixed income. Washington has lost sight of the bigger problem and is willing to throw the elderly under the bus in order to make themselves look good. This is a bad move.
—Phil Turturici, Absolute Consulting
The Social Security we are all looking for when we retire won’t be there unless we start putting more in now—that includes removing or increasing the cap for the deposits. We need to be smart about this to keep it alive.
I support raising the full retirement age. I support raising the current wage cap beyond $106,800. And most importantly, I encourage all American workers to save at least 10 percent of their annual earnings towards retirement.
—Vinny Dallo, LUTCF New York Life
OK, if we recall, Mr. Ryan’s plan "grandfathered" all older than 55 years old. That would allow ample time for those under 55 to make plans to supplement their Social Security. Having said that, what is wrong with removing the cap on Social Security taxes? Of course, employers don’t want to keep paying but I believe it is one of the more fair ways of increasing revenue in the fund. Also, increasing the age at which full benefits are paid is a reasonable plan too. I had to wait until I was 66 and my kids will probably have to wait until they are 68 or 70. If they plan for it they can do it I think. There is always the option of taking benefits early with a penalty. I’m ashamed to say that our governmental leadership doesn’t have the guts to make even these modest proposals. Come on guys; show some leadership (for once).
Increasing the Social Security full retirement age from the current 67 to 70 as has been proposed is an acceptable change given that life expectancy has increased since the original 65 age was set in the ‘30s. The current 67 age was set in the ‘80s as part of the last "fix" but without any other restraints on costs. Means testing the benefits similar to the means testing for the part D drug benefit would also be a good strategy to implement. The Paul Ryan strategy to make this age increase affect anyone younger than 55 is also the best strategy since it provides ample time to prepare.
—Dave Coriale, Webster
There should be no cuts to ANY services as there is more than enough money. This entire budget/debt ceiling crisis is made up. End one of the four illegal wars, and we’ll be fine. Exactly how much more money do rich people need?
When you’re looking at changing the game plan for Social Security we are forgetting that in the past two years there hasn’t been an increase due to the federal formula for inflation. No increase in payments for the past two years as Congress has received a healthy pay raise in both years. It’s so easy to ask the aging population of this country to pay the bills for a Congress that has been out of control giving billions to countries that don’t support America and funding two wars that cost billions every month. Make a short-term correction now with smart budget cuts and then vote out the current Congress and the President in the next election. This is a true wake up moment for the country.
—Ken Pamatat, Creative Images
The average lifespan has increased about 12 years since Social Security began. It makes sense to bump the retirement age up a year or two.
Gordon Black taught me at UR that for each new $1 in revenue, the federal government spends much more (an estimated $1.75 for 2011). Who doubts they would do the same with any new revenue from increased payroll taxes? I do not support removing the Social Security wage cap unless the benefit cap is also removed. Current and near retirees should receive the same benefits as now but benefits need to be cut and eligibility age needs to be raised for future retirees (including me!).
—Karen Zilora, Creative Scanning Solutions, Inc.
Folks who don’t need Social Security should waive benefits. The ceiling on wages subject to payroll taxes should be raised significantly. These measures could resolve the projected shortfall and would not be harmful to those who need these benefits.
—Tom Gillett, NYSUT
I’m supportive of changes that do not affect current benefit recipients, Social Security revenues must be increased and health improvements should cause some increase in the age limitations a long as there is ample notice to future Social Security beneficiaries.
I did not vote in your poll this week because I believe your choices are flawed and/or incomplete. First, let’s address the wealthy (of which I am not)—we need to stop thinking the "wealthy" need to pay more for everything. Why do we continue to penalize people that strive for success and wealth? People should get out of Social Security what they put in—period. Taxing people more is NEVER the answer. Every person should be taxed equally as a percentage of their income. If the average age people are living goes up, then the age at which people are eligible for Social Security should go up too, but it should be a sliding scale based on when you were born. Personally, I disagree with Social Security in the first place because each of us should have control of our own savings and investments in preparation for retirement. I trust myself with my money—I do not trust "the government" with my money. We see examples every day how they handle "our money.”
Go after big corporation tax loopholes and leave Social Security and Medicare alone. They aren’t "entitlements." That money belongs to the people. Look at Congress "entitlements" FIRST!
I do not like targeting the rich just because they are successful. I do not support subsidizing those who choose to not work and want the government to feed, clothe and house them. On the other hand, those who don’t work do not build a Social Security benefit. Because the tax does not tax all income, it is effectively a regressive tax. And, I have yet to meet the individual who consistently makes above the maximum taxable amount to be planning her or his retirement on Social Security benefits. We should have been moving the eligibility age up all along as we were able to live longer, more productive lives. As we live longer and work longer, opportunities to start for the next generation get delayed. How many ways do we want to screw our kids’ futures? Oh yeah, we also blow the rest of the estate they could have inherited on keeping us hooked up to tubes and monitors. As for defense, the future indications are that we will be able to do a lot more with a lot less in terms of manpower and equipment. Secretary Gates pointed this out. The major obstacle to cutting defense spending appears to be congressmen who want useless, yet expensive defense contracting done in their district, not the actual cost of sound and proven defense systems. Finally, since private business has been told to do more with less for about four decades now, how about the government trying it for one stinkin’ administration? Hire some business leaders who know how to do that, properly fund Social Security, spend defense money on what we need, not what congressmen want and we’ll be well on our way to cutting the debt and operating in a surplus. Can we talk about closing loop holes next?
Cut the cord, rip off the Band-Aid, come up with your own cliché—we have to get rid of entitlements. I don’t support any of your options. If you are on it and you paid into it, you get it. If you are currently paying, you stop paying now and when you hit the age you would have gotten it, you get a prorated payment. If you aren’t work(ing) yet, you win. You weren’t going to get it anyway, so you shouldn’t pay in the first place.
—Devon Michaels, Chili
Social Security should not be given as a gift from the government to the wealthy. We also should not end Social Security, ever! The government needs to figure it out, and make it work! Don’t turn your back on our seniors!
The United States has completely lost sight of what Social Security is. It is a defined benefit pension plan. Defined benefit pension plans are dinosaurs in the private sector. Social Security collections and outlays should not be considered a part of federal budget. It should be taken out of the equation completely. The problem is that the government has spent the money and is unable to repay the debt. In the private sector, this would be illegal and officials would be in jail. Congress and the administration should be there also.
Something needs to be done. If this group of elected officials will not act then we need to replace them with statesmen. Our electorate must wake up soon or we are going to destroy ourselves.
—Peter Farrell, FSI Systems
I support "means testing" for higher income retirees.
—Pete Bonenfant, Fairport
I believe in total privatization of Social Security. Let workers make their own retirement investments. Government involvement in is the reason Social Security is in jeopardy. Instead of reducing benefits to the so-called wealthy, instead Congress and the Senate should have to participate in the Social Security program. I want my money in my pockets not in the government’s pockets and I especially do not want the government telling me how much of my money I can spend when I retire. Remember that Social Security funds are the taxpayer’s money; whether wealthy or of low lifetime income.
—Michael F. Kloppel, chairman, Ontario County Conservative Party
The only people who should receive Social Security are those who have contributed. Period.
—Frank Gerham Jr.
The choice wasn’t given in your poll question, but I would support an immediate freeze on cost of living adjustments currently being paid to recipients. Alternately, make COLA adjustments by using a formula that is 50 percent of the current calculation to slow the rate of growth.
—Mike Charland, Liebel & Merle Sales, Inc.
Whether we support these steps or not, they are inevitable. The only question is when we will implement these—now, in a careful, fiscally planned manner, or in a panic later on when the whole federal fiscal system in irreparable danger.
—David Lovenheim, Managing Director, Keystones Global LLC
The U.S. budget is about $4 trillion per year, so a $4 trillion cut in spending over 10 years equates to a 10 percent cut. So, cut every U.S. government department 10 percent from 2011 levels and make them stick to it, no exceptions. There, done. What’s next?
—Joe Fabetes, Rochester
Cut the welfare frauds, cut aid to foreign countries, cut Washington spending, cut federal health care to politicians, salaries and benefits. Remove all the illegal aliens from the country. Stop shipping our jobs overseas. This is a good start.
Are you kidding?
Social Security is not the cause of the deficit. The $2.5 trillion surplus has pressure from two wars where not one cent was raised to pay for them and the Bush tax cuts, also not paid for. I find it curious that a Defense budget that has more than doubled, just received an $18 billion increase, including support from radical republicans, and not one cent in new revenue was required to pay for it.
—Jim Bertolone, Rochester AFL-CIO
The Republican attack on Social Security and Medicare to balance the federal budget is the biggest tax increase in a long time, affecting those who are relying on these payments for a living. Social Security and Medicare were paid from earnings that had been taxed while we were working and for which we pay now again on our Social Security income. We also continue to contribute to Medicaid from the Social Security income. The Social Security Fund has presently a balance of about 2.6 trillion dollars, and is taking in more contributions from current workers. With interest income, the fund will be able to pay full benefits until 2036. Thus, reducing Social Security payments and Medicaid support is unnecessary and unwarranted. The money is there. Since the recipients are spending this income right away, they significantly contribute to maintain the economy. The Republican raid-and-tax increase on low-income citizens is in stark contrast to their repeated calls for “no tax increases.” This mantra is thus focused for the benefit of the wealthy and the unearned hand-outs and subsidies to them. The present state of budget imbalance was caused by both parties and by all Americans and should be reduced by all Americans by added tax contributions and reductions of federal dole.
—Ingo H Leubner, Crystallization Consulting
Raising the current Social Security wage cap of $106,800 to $300K would solve a lot of the problem. The Social Security tax is probably one of the most regressive taxes we have in the U.S.
—Mary Lynn Vickers, founder and owner, The Phantom Chef Personal Chef Service
It’s not like Social Security obligations snuck up on anyone. It’s also absurd to position Social Security obligations as the one and only solution to an immediate problem. Actuarial calculations have for decades pointed out the imbalance between payout and income. The sort of games congress has been playing for generations using the Social Security trust fund as a budget buffer is unconscionable. Social Security is an obligation! Working citizens have paid into the fund and have the expectation that their meager benefits will be there when needed. More now than ever, since the recklessness of banks, insurance companies, investment houses, regulators and politicians have decimated many baby boomer’s pensions and investments. Social Security is all many people have left to survive on. Regardless of what Republicans, their Tea Party allies and the super-rich propose— that there be no increase on the revenue side (new or increased taxes)—the sad reality is that we simply cannot “cut” our way out of this crisis. There must be balance! Sensible compromise where wasteful spending exists, eliminate it, where fair increases in taxes are appropriate, implement them. It’s tragic that so many people crave simple, symbolic solutions to highly complex issues and that so many of our elected officials pander to the wealthy and powerful while trying to manipulate the majority of citizens.
—Frank Orienter, Rochester
7/22/11 (c) 2011 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.