SURVEY SAYS: Are Americans Ready for an "Adult Conversation?"

March 10, 2011 ( - I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a bit dizzy watching politicians professing that we desperately need to make cuts in federal entitlement programs, but then saying that the American public won’t stand for those cuts.   

This week, I asked readers if they thought the American public was ready for that “adult conversation” on things like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

For the very most part, this week’s respondents thought Americans were ready.  However, roughly one-in-three didn’t think so; Just over 13% simply said Americans weren’t ready for that, while 8.3% said they weren’t ready – and shouldn’t have to be ready for that conversation.  Another 17% said “probably not.” 

On the other hand, nearly 15% said they thought Americans were ready for that conversation, 17.6% said they thought Americans, for the most part, were ready for that conversation.

Just over one-in-five said they weren’t sure.

But a plurality – 23.1% – said they thought Americans were ready for that conversation – but the politicians weren’t.

A lot of people had a lot to say on the issue – I think it’s fair to say that there’s no easy answer(s), and this week’s verbatims run the gamut.  I hope you enjoy them.

Thanks to everyone who participated in our survey! 


Seriously? Think about it. To paraphrase Stephen Hawking, with millions n' millions of boomers flying out the door with their entitlement(s) hands wide open, do you honestly feel the most ego-oriented generation of modern times is going to "take one for the team."

They need to be.  How much longer can everyone keep feeling the sense of entitlement and not expect the country to go broke?  Everyone needs to suck it up.

I think more than half of the American public is ready. The rest don't want to hear it because they benefit from it in more ways than one.

Politicians want to keep using band-aids.  The American public, especially young adults like my kids who are 22 and 25, are definitely ready to look at long term solutions that will affect them in the future.

I am ready for that adult conversation.  I have saved all my life and continue to save so that I can support myself in retirement.   I even worked 2 jobs at a time twice when it seemed like the right thing to do to ensure I could meet my saving goals.  Imagine That- working to reach a goal!)   I imagine that  depending on where a person is in the spectrum they are ready for that adult conversation.  If they are on the receiving end of the tax payer funded programs, they are not ready to have the  adult conversation, but  a reality check has to occur at some point.  It is time for that conversation on many levels.  America can not support these programs for the long haul.

Americans want Tiffany quality at Wal-Mart pricing.  They may be ready for an "adult coversation" but not "adult actions."  They are generally unwilling to accept reductions that affect them or those close to them or pay for the real costs for benefits. 

Democracy is a great form of government, however Washington has lost it's way with it's across the aisle bickering resulting in "do nothing" elected officials who protect only their own self-interest. FOX versus MSNBC picks sides  to only increase profit margins. - "the medium is the message" can honestly be found on twitter and facebook.

The poverty level in the U.S. among our older citizens is embarrassing.  It is hard to think of a Christian nation that is so callous and willing to cut the services to the elderly while giving tax cuts and benefits to the wealthy.  How can we hold our heads up or face the rest of civilization while condemning our senior citizens by death panels.  Where is the outrage now?

Some of us are more than ready - others just say they're ready until it's time to take money away from their special interests.  Then they'll fight like dogs!

Some Americans are not stupid, and fully and accurately remember the past 30 or so years, and how we got into the financial mess we're in.  In spite of what both sides of the aisle try to convince us, some of us do think for ourselves and pay attention, and have opinions on the logic of some of the corrections to be made.  I, for one, would love to see the cap on Social Security wages eliminated (currently it's $106,800) since that amounts to a tax break for the "wealthy."  If we have to forgive some amount of income for that tax, why not make the first $25,000 or so ineligible, so that the lower earning populace could actually spend that money on food and clothing.  Those earning over the cap likely don't even notice when the 4.2% stops being withheld.

I think we're almost ready for the adult conversation, I'm not sure we're ready for actually making the adult decisions. Any solution is going to involve pain and the people who suffer aren't faceless leeches on the system -- they are taxpaying, working men and women the same families, dreams and concerns as the rest of us. But doing nothing is no longer an option.


Neither the American public nor our politicians are prepared for this conversation. They would have to come to the realization that these social welfare programs have been diluted so much that they are not economically sustainable. Watered down by practically every politcians campaign promise we gone too far from the original direction of these programs. It would be political sucide to attempt to reform these programs with less (or even no) benefits.

Politicians try to make the choice cut entitlements or don't cut them. In reality, entitlements could be modified to limit their growth, and we might even- raise taxes. It's not a violation of the Constitution.

We have all paid into Social Security and Medicare over the years for these programs, and we shouldn't have to cut them. Raise the limit on taxable income for these entitlement programs, raise taxes back to the Clinton-era rates on the top 2%, and STOP THE WAR SPENDING.

Please define:  adult conversation -- do you mean - 'get ready for cuts', or do you mean 'make choices on which programs the USA can afford'?  This is a far too serious debate to be confined to only some social service programs.  What about military spending?

But it might not be the conversation some think it should be - the rich (myself included) need to pay more so that we all have a chance to retire with a decent standard of living.

Let's talk about term limits on Congress and limiting their pensions and health care! It is about time that they got a reality check and had their own "adult conversation".

,I think being ready for the conversation depends on the age of the person.  During my retirement planning, I assumed Social Security would not exist (I'm late 30s).  I know my parents never considered retirement without Social Security. 

The question (and answer choices) pre-supposes that we all agree that these programs need to be cut . . . Many of us do not.  So "ready for adult conversation" is not really an applicable question.  More to the point - ready to put EVERYTHING on the table - defense spending, subsidies to oil companies, etc., etc.  Not sure why it should start with the programs that are supporting older Americans, and which are prevalent in virtually every civilized country.

No one wants their benefits to be cut.  I'll give up my mortgage tax deduction on my  middle class house, what will you (plural) give up?

Unfortunately not -- too many people are willing to ignore long-term systemic problems until the country has an absolute meltdown.

It's the same thing we face as individuals or as a business.  You are getting $X in income and you'd like to spend $2X.  You can't.  So you must decide what is the most worthwhile set of expenditures you can have that don't exceed $X.  Unfortunately for the politicians, to have such a conversation with the American public requires full disclosure, and they've been the ones who've happily spent more than their income for years.  Among the topics of conversation ===> "Listen, I know we've created an environment of Laws and administrivia that have taken away the availability of pension plans (especially defined benefit plans), but we've also messed up Social Security et. al. to the point that we simply can't continue at the current levels."

"Social Security can easily be fixed by raising the income limit, delaying benefits until 70, and reducing benefits in retirement to retirees with incomes over the income limit. 

Medicare can only be saved if we get control of healthcare costs.  Especially the very expensive end of life procedures to keep someone alive for a few more weeks." 

Nobody wants to make a sacrifice, but they want everyone else to do so. Most, including the politicians, are not ready for this conversation. Too bad as the time is at hand and all the children are going to have to grow up. In other words, as my old First Sargent used to say, it is a great big shit sandwich and everybody has to take a bite.

For most Americans, entitlement programs have become a right, not a privilege and thus the conversation, like government employee unions' rights in Wisconsin, becomes one of passion, not logic and reality.  We started many years ago down the slippery slope of government control of our economy, our rights and soon our entire existence.  There is no way off that slope short of bankruptcy of the system and hopefully, the ultimate change (albeit painful) back to individual freedoms we used to enjoy.  Not in my lifetime will this happen, but maybe in my grandchildren's.

Politicians are very good about asking others to make sacrifices, but I haven't noticed any of them permanently giving up part of their own salary, retirement benefits or health care.  Entitlement programs were designed to provide basic income and medical care.  How would a 75 year old person make up for the loss in benefits?  Get a job in this market?

It is my belief that those who don't pay FWT will be the ones who scream the loudest. If we don't have the guts to take on this problem, it will be done for us by virtue of the collapse of our domestic financial system.

Glad to see it starting in WI and other states who are finally saying "no mas" (no pun intended).

Try removing the wage cap on social security wages.  That would bring additional funding into the SS and Medicare system while only raising the employment tax on the perceived wealthy.  If the cap on earnings were removed, we would gain a large amount each year from the tax on those earnings because they are also matched by the employer.


I think everything should be on the table. If we ran the government like a business, it would be in a lot better shape. We'd have to be accountable to the stockholders, aka taxpayers.

Kicking and screaming we must.  We don't have any choice, the math doesn't work.  Freeze COLAs, raise the SS cap, tax benefits to a higher extent, force personal savings.  Restrict the contributions to only this purpose and stop using the SS/MC payments to make current payments of US debt.

The majority of Americans know that all 3 programs are unsustainable and will drive the country into financial oblivion.  The majority of people in Washington don't understand math well enough to form an opinion.  Politicians find a way to increase money for their favorite program and then call it a "cut" because the increase wasn't as big as previously planned or hoped for -- that's not an adult conversation.

I'm in my mid- to late-30's and have been ready for this conversation for years, but others have been resiting.  Citizens and politicians seem to resist the fact that the longer we wait to make changes to greater the changes that have to be made!

As long as there are entitlements there is less incentive to take responsibility for our own needs.  What incentive is there to work or save for retirement when we believe the government is going to give us retirement income (social security) and healthcare (Medicare).  It's no different than extending the unemployment payouts.  I actually know of people who due to the extended benefits have no intention of even trying to look for a job until it gets closer to the expiration of benefits.  Again, no incentive to work when there's "free money" out there.


I look at my daughter's generation and they seem to think they are entitled to just about everything. Not ready to work towards a goal or be patient in obtaining something. People need to realize they can't have it all. Government should provide basic services and not be pressured into providing everything for every body.

It would be wise for us to have these conversations now while we have more options available.  If we wait until we are forced to do something, we will have far fewer choices available to fix the situation.

I think it is time for the politicians to stop telling us that we are ready - or not- for any changes.  If, and I know it's a stretch, there were adult conversations about entitlements, health reform, etc., they might be pleasantly surprised with the results.  That being said, I don't think it will happen anytime soon because those in Washington seem to think we 'everyday people', who by the way pay their salaries, are not intelligent enough to make rational decisions.  Even though most of us don't run our households or businesses with huge deficits......

If we can turn the conversation to what benefits we want and how we want to pay for it, then we can have the discussion. For this to happen, political leaders need to change their mindset from "you elected me to make decisions" to "you elected me to enact your decision, and I have a responsibility to help you make the best decision possible"

I know how to live on a budget.  I make hard choices based on my priorities. I can't have and do everything and I don't expect that. It's time for realistic, hard decisions to be made.  As a country, we need to find a way to simplify and fairly tax everyone. I know, how naive is that. I contend, however, that "adults" could cooperatively come up with a plan. No special interests allowed. Bite the bullet. Charities and churches in this country have been helping those less fortunate forever. Bring it all together. I bet our kids are "naive" enough to do it.

"Should FICA be capped at a fixed dollar amount of pay or, like Medicare, be taxed on all payroll income?  Should Social Security payments to retirees be indexed to wealth, need, or stay as is?  Should Medicare be indexed to an individual's wealth and need?"  I think we need to have discussions  so that Americans can set their priorities and  funding should be available only for programs that serve the greater good.


"While everyone knows we (USA) is broke, people don't want to give up the life styles they are used to. When you want a steak sandwich and can't afford it, you have to eat peanut butter for a while.

I for one am tired of certain unions and all the whining going on.  I have had a high deductible health care plan since 2007.  (whine) I have seen my pay check go down by $5000 a year and yet our public servants have had raises.  Then they have a fit when we ask them to give up some of their pay and rights. (like including Viagra in the covered drugs)

What about the private sector rights?  The people who pay both politicians and public servants can't sustain their life styles.  Everyone has to UNITE and work together. After all we ARE the United States!  Our Great Grandparents would be ashamed at how we are acting!"

Those us that have been in this business for awhile (30+ years), have seen that there has consistently been a lack of will on the part of politicians to think about these issues.  Those few who have been "crying in the desert" about this for years have been ignored or shouted down.  Even now, when there's still a chance to try to fix this without affecting people 50 and up, people are unwilling to do anything that will threaten their chances of getting reelected.  I hope that those of you who are younger will get the bug and educate the crowd within the Beltway that something needs to be done, like yesterday.

"Do you have a few hours?  I'm an independent, so no party politics here.  All politicians are blow hards!

Having been previously laid off and falling into a ""bad"" place financially, I am SICK of these politicians.  We are a family of 4 and living EXTREMELY lean, trying to pay off debt, keep our house, feed our kids, and pay monthly bills.   All the while the gov't seems to think there is no cap on what they can spend.  

While I believe that eventually entitlements will need to be cut, the politicians need to put their money where there mouth is and make severe cuts to their perks/salaries/benefits etc. first.  There is so much money that can be recouped from other places as well, but the politicians (all of them) don't want to anger the lobbyists, et. al. that give them huge amounts of money for their campaign.  

So until I see real tightening of the belt from these guys, I don't believe they really mean to cut much at all. I do believe that if they actually do make cuts, they will take more money away from the taxpayers through raising taxes or cutting entitlements.  Mean while, I'm still struggling to make it week to week."

I am 51 and I don't care if they cut my future benefits - however, I wish they would hurry up and do so, because it's difficult to plan for the future without some resolution to this issue.  Perhaps it would be helpful to establish an automatic adjustment in the accrual of future benefits to changes in mortality tables.  It is mathematically impossible to maintain the system where life expectancies have been consistently increasing without reflecting those added liabilities with either corresponding increases in the tax required to fund them, or with a corresponding delay or reduction in benefits to offset the longer life span over which the benefits are payable.  Of course, actually dedicating the taxes collected to pay the benefits would have been helpful.  We are grossly mismanaging our younger generations' futures, and handing them the bill.

Adult conversations are meaningful when thoughts, opinions, and observations bubble up from the American people. The quality of communication falls upon deaf ears and becomes juvenile when the politicians become involved. They all lack the intestinal fortitude to sit down together and address the hard issues such as S.Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The middle class is looking for answers in our leaders and chief and are not receiving any.


We need leaders not politicians.  Leaders will tackle the problem but politicians will give the people what they want .   As a parent, I see that the kids(people) need some adult supervision.

Before people (and the politicians that "represent" them) are willing and able to make tough choices, they have to buy into the philosophy that the role of government isn't to take care of citizens from cradle to grave.  Our Founding Fathers deemed the purpose of government was to protect our citizens and enforce the laws.  They'd turn over in their graves if they saw how taxpayer money was spent, and saw how many capable citizens have become victims instead of taking charge of their own lives.

The "my way or the highway" attitude of most politicians has got to go. There is and always will be valid disagreement about the best way to make cuts. It's time to accept that no one can get exactly what they want and begin to craft a solution that we can all live with.

It would help if they first cut the Retirement Plan and health benefits for Federal employees, like those same Congressmen!

"If there is no money, there are no services.  I don't know what is so hard to understand about

that.  Everyone is for cuts but and no one wants to lose the benefit that affects them.  Instead of having medical care to keep us all alive until every last option has been tried, people will have to accept that medicare/medicaid will not cover everything.  I have friends that their elderly mother has Alzheimer's and now they have found cancer.  The doctors recommended surgery.  The family has decided to let her live out her natural life with no surgery.  It will take more of those kinds of decisions to bring medicare/medicaid under control."


These programs are important to the financial survival of most Americans.  This should not be where we look to make cuts.  I am sure there many, many other places to go first.  I know this isn't popular but I'd rather give up parks and support of the arts for example, then Medicare or Social Security.  What about the multiple government departments doing the same thing.  Should we sacrifice the financial well-being of our own citizens for foreign aid?  Many questions to answer before attacking these programs.

Politicians should include in their conversations two big items: 1). Increasing the age based on new information regarding life expectancy and 2). Means testing for social security.  They should also eliminate waste and fraud within the department without increasing personnel to do so.  I assume since it is run by a government agency there is wasteful redundancy that could be eliminated with little disruption to the flow of things.  I'm 47 and I'm fairly certain, social security will not be there for me without any changes.  I believe the majority of the population under age 50 believes similarly.

What should be included in the adult conversations:  use your head, look at history, and do the math!  When people go without for too long, with the upper class stockpiling money and living lavishly, some have revolted or turned to criminal action; anyone remember "let them eat cake?"

"Everything should be on the table, including Medicare, SS, defense, tax increases.  Deficit spending, especially without any plan to repay the debt, is immoral."  We need to look more at what's long term

"The key with at least Medicare and Medicaid is to force transparency of healthcare. In firmly believe that we all need to know the hows and whys costs are generated by healthcare providers can we address the spiraling costs. I am not a conspiracy theorist but how convenient HIPPA is to mask the costs of healthcare providers.

If transparency can't be achieved then healthcare costs should be regulated (similar to the way utilities are now). Then with costs being set the only way a healthcare provider could stand out would be through service and positive outcomes with their patients."

We all complain about our politicians, but we generally get the ones that we deserve. We should all try looking at ourselves to understand why we have the problems we have.

Keeping Social Security solvent - Instead of raising the retirement age, decreasing benefit amounts and/or implementing qualifying "need" criteria, seriously consider eliminting the ceiling on Social Security payroll tax.


"Considering we have the lowest tax rates in several generations and have the greatest concentration of wealth among the fewest AND the greatest INCREASE in income amongst those same, I don't understand the reluctance to raise taxes.  There has NEVER been a documented case of those top 2% having created ONE ""real"" job (not counting illegal alien nannies paid under the table) - so the raising taxes shouldn't decrease job creation either.

By the way - high taxes can actually SPUR JOB GROWTH.  Every employee you hire is a TAX DEDUCTION and you can effectively turn current income into long term capital gains (by increasing the value of your enterprise)."

People need to save for their own retirement (old and young) and cannot rely on companies, because they might not be around forever.  In addition, most taxpayers who have made a sacrifice to save for their retirement do not want to pay more in taxes in the future to fund the retirees who never saved and expect the government to pay for their retirement.  The politicians are afraid to have these "adult conversations" with the public, because they would lose their jobs and perks.

Until the politicians are able to have an adult conversation themselves, without the sound bites or only trying to appeal to their narrow constituencies, will meaningful dialogue occur.  The people who legislate our laws and our lives, must learn the true effects of what they do to ordinary Americans when contemplating changes to programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

I travel speaking frequently to groups of employees to educate them on their Employer Benefits & retirement planning.  I ask the question.... "who thinks they will get the Social Security Benefit that was on their last statement?"  no one raises their hand.....

As I understand it, all we have to do to shore up social security is to remove the earnings cap. As a way of stimulating the economy, I'd like to see that coupled temporarily with floor on earnings of say 20,000, making the first 20K not subject to the tax for both employer and employee, thereby giving a boost to both small business and to lower income workers that would then increase consumer spending.


We have all paid into Social Security and Medicare over the years for these programs, and we shouldn't have to cut them. Raise the limit on taxable income for these entitlement programs, raise taxes back to the Clinton-era rates on the wealthiest Americans, and STOP THE WAR SPENDING, which is always approved and nobody ever talks about.

I believe the majority of common sense American citizens prefer to cut programs to illegal aliens and non-citizens before cutting programs to tax-paying citizens.  This approach, however, is not acceptable to the left-leaning politicians.

Unfortunately I believe one of the biggest issues we face in the US is a feeling of entitlement by a large portion of our population.  And, unfortunately, I also believe this group is the one who contributes the least to our economy, and benefits the most from these programs.  I think most well educated Americans understand the problems and realize changes must be made, but until someone finally offers a viable solution and until politicians as well as the media will embrace the fact the system must change, we are simply going to be stuck in the same cycle of complaining, inaction, and unaccountability.

There comes a time when we have to address all problems with Fed programs.  Why should Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid be exempted?  If you wean the populace off the programs and give them more of their income to help, then you get more open minds.  Those still working need to be told the programs are ending and they will start getting more of their earnings instead of sending them to D.C.  These are adult conversations but ones that must be had if our system of government is going to survive.  We can't continue to have the Federal and State governments pay for all the programs they have today.

It will not happen but everyone should be sat down and told the truth on how entitlements are funded (by us) and we all need to more responsible for our actions or inactions and not expect the government (taxpayers) to bail you out all the time.

I saw a survey recently in which something like 60% of Americans surveyed thought that the US govt's budget could be balanced by eliminating waste. We're talking about $1.5 trillion of "waste." Completely unrealistic, and frankly totally childish. So, no, Americans generally are not able to have an adult conversation - they are ignorant of the facts.

But the politicians AREN'T!

I do not believe that Social Security is unsustainable.  Remember we raised the rates and wage base back in the 80's to increase the solvency so we Boomers have been paying more than was actuarially required?  If Congress would keep its mitts off the so-called trust fund, we wouldn't need to be having this discussion.  The fix for any projected shortfall is so obvious it's ludicrous that we haven't implemented it - remove the wage limit and reduce the rate.  Exempt the first $10 or $20,000 so the poor working slob barely scraping by doesn't pay more in payroll taxes than someone making $100,000.

The American public is ready but are the politicians ready to listen........


I am a 62 year old that is still working.  The last time we had a bipartisan fix on social security it included a gradual increase in the age for full retirement.  We need to do the same now.  Means testing will change social security to a form of welfare.  If you paid into social security then you should receive the benefits promised.  This is another form of income redistribution/welfare.

How about we just start with cuts in all those Departments that we don't need...Transportation, HUD, Energy, not to mention PBS, grants to institutions, and selling off some govt land.  There is PLENTY to cut in the govt that doesn't involve entitlements.  So why then is when the word "cuts" is mentioned, do we always think of entitlements.  Let's worry about this other pork, duplicate services and waste and fraud first!

Politicians are going to say whatever keeps them in office.  I wouldn't trust them to lead an adult conversation.

"First of all, after having taken money out of employee's pay checks for 40 or more years and having the employers match that amount, to insist that Social Security is nothing but welfare is an affront to hard-working people who paid all those years.  Furthermore, it is even worse for those persons who sacrificed to save in IRA's, 401 (k)'s or other investment vehicles that since they are now well-off, they should have no right to their social security, while others who did not save, receive it.  At the very least, people should get a refund if they are not going to get benefits.  Had they had that money to save and invest, they would have something.  I understand that social security is/has always been a pay as you go system.  In any other plan, (e.g. pensions), that would be considered a ponzi scheme.  We have lied to workers for years and now want to change the rules, when for some people it is too late.  Thus far, I have heard no suggestions about congressional benefits and pensions going away.,.and they get a lot more money for less years.  They will need to step up and sacrifice with everyone else.  Yes, I am passionate about this issue.  I am nearing retirement, with a retired husband and we pay tax on 85% of his Social Security.  I have had two jobs for the last 21 years.  My 401 (k) is coming back, but my plans continue to be in turmoil based on the vagaries of the market, and the political climate.  I have worked since I was 11 years old and think I should be able to enjoy some time off sometime soon.

As always, Nevin, thanks for asking.  My Newsdash keeps me connected."

"I find it fascinating that, despite Social Security being in fine shape until 2037 according to the trustees, so many people are advocating benefit cuts or raising the retirement age.  I think they should increase the wage base and decrease the tax rate such that there is enough money.

As for Medicare & Medicaid, being able to negotiate prices with big pharma would be a great place to start.  I also like the idea of lowing the eligibility age for Medicare.  One of the reasons so many of the post-65 crowd are in bad health is the lack of access to healthcare in the years before they reach Medicare eligibility." 

Need to put everything on the table - not just those programs that help the less fortunate.  Need to try to take politics out of it - which is very difficult, as I'm sure you didn't even realize the way you framed the question was set up to lean to the right, and pre-supposed that your readers agreed.  Very difficult issues - not easy even to discuss . . .

That we can't afford the level of benefits that are projected to be paid out.

Many people feel that they are  entitled to getting a free ride, that its not their fault that they are: out of work, out of money, living beyond their means, etc.  This group is increasing in size and may soon surpass our group of conscientious people who feel that they have to work for what they get and must live and spend responsibly.  I'm kind of worried.  I've tried to save for my retirement through my 401(k), but feel that the way we're headed, that will be taken away from me in some form of taxation and given to those who feel it was all right to spend everything they earned.