Social Security, one of the nation’s oldest welfare programs, is set to start running out of money in about a decade — and Americans want Congress to take action, new polling finds.
In a poll of about 1,300 likely voters, Data for Progress found that a bipartisan majority of Americans — 84 percent — are “very” or “somewhat” concerned that Social Security won’t be able to pay out full benefits to future generations. Eighty-three percent of voters, also on a bipartisan basis, support raising Social Security benefits in order to match current cost of living standards, and to ensure that everyone who has paid into the program will be able to access its full benefits when they’re of retirement age.
Plans to expand Social Security by taxing the rich are also popular. When asked about lawmakers’ bills that would raise taxes for Americans making more than $400,000 a year in order to pay for expansions of the program, 76 percent of respondents, including 83 percent of Democrats and 73 percent of independents and Republicans, said they “strongly” or “somewhat” support the proposal.
One such bill is the Social Security Expansion Act, introduced by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) last month. The bill would increase Social Security payments by $2,400 a year, and would fully fund the program for the next 75 years, until 2096.
It would also create more parity in the tax system, as it would eliminate the cap for Social Security payments for people making over $250,000. Currently, the income cap for Social Security taxes is $147,000, meaning that people making more than that stop paying into the program by the time they’ve made that amount of income in the year; for instance, people making a salary of $1 million stop paying into the program by February each year.
Thanks in part to Republicans’ refusal to raise taxes, the program is set to be insolvent by 2033, meaning that it will have to start paying out only 75 percent of the benefits, which are already low. Though GOP lawmakers likely wouldn’t say it out loud, due to the program’s popularity, right-wingers have been working behind closed doors and in think tanks for years to slash Social Security, often with the goal of privatization.
This is an unpopular idea, however. Data for Progress found that 68 percent of likely voters oppose privatizing the program, including 75 percent of Democrats and 70 percent of Republicans. Economists also agree that privatizing Social Security would be harmful and lead to yet more poverty — and that what’s truly needed to ensure that the seniors and disabled people who are most in need have the funds they need to survive is a large expansion of the program.
Meanwhile, when presented with the statement that Democrats are trying to expand the program and the GOP is trying to end it, 55 percent of voters say they would vote for a generic Democrat running for Congress, with 22 percent of self-identified Republicans agreeing as such.
As it is, Social Security is failing to provide enough funding for many seniors to live off of, as Sanders pointed out in a Senate Banking Committee hearing in June. Over half of seniors are living on incomes of less than $25,000 a year, while many of those same seniors don’t have any retirement savings.
“Our job, in my view, is not to cut Social Security, is not to raise the retirement age, as many of my Republican colleagues would have us do,” Sanders said at the time. “Our job is to expand Social Security so that everyone in America can retire with the dignity that he or she deserves and that every person in this country with a disability can retire with the security they need.”