EBRI: Workers More Skeptical on Social Security than Retirees

February 3, 2005 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - By an eight point margin, Americans were skeptical that Social Security benefits would remain untouched by Washington bureaucrats, according to a 2001 survey.

The latest Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS) by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) and Matthew Greenwald & Associates found that 55% of workers and retirees were either not too and not at all confident that Social Security benefits would stay the same while 29% were somewhat confident and 13% were very confident, according to the data released by EBRI.

That was down from 2000 when 63% were either not too and not at all confident about Social Security and 1999 when 65% were in that category, according to the EBRI data.

The Social Security issue has become a key topic of public policy discussion with Bush Administration efforts to partially privatize the system by allowing younger workers the chance to invest some of their money themselves – a key theme of Wednesday’s George Bush State of the Union speech.

Breaking the RCS data down, EBRI found a difference between the confidence levels of those still working and retirees. Among working Americans, 34% of workers were very or somewhat confident about Social Security benefits while the figure nearly doubled among retirees to 66%.”There still appears to be strong support for a Social Security program in general, but workers are not counting on it to the be their main source of retirement income as retirees currently do,” EBRI wrote in its survey report.

Among the reasons cited for respondents’ Social Security confidence in the 2001 poll were:

  • Having faith and believing in the system – 21% (19% among workers, 24% among retirees)
  • A sense that the government will always take care of people – 14% (13% among workers, 15% among retirees)

Reasons offered in the 2001 survey for lack of Social Security confidence included:

  • The system going bankrupt because of too many retirees – 24% (25% among workers and 20% among retirees)
  • Not sure if the system will be there – 14% (15% among workers, 10% among retirees)

The latest data based on EBRI/The Gallup Organization polls found that a skeptical note was also creeping into Americans’ answer to the question: “Do you think the Social Security system will be able to pay you a benefit when you retire?” In a March 1994 poll, 52% said no, 47% said yes. Two years earlier, respondents split evenly with 49% saying yes and the same saying no.

Interestingly, at least based on 1994 and 1995 EBRI/Gallup data, Bush may find more popular support for his partial privatization idea. Eight of 10 respondents in a March 1995 poll said a key issue in their opposition to the whole system was that they could do better if they invested their money themselves, up from 79% in May 1994.

The EBRI report is here .