Young People Not Joining The Right-Wing Attack On Social Security

There’s a common misconception that young people simply do not care about Social Security. But research by pollster Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners shows precisely the opposite.

“The younger you are, the more opposed you are to raising the age of retirement,” Lake said, speaking at an Economic Policy Institute forum on Engaging Younger Generations in the Social Security Debates. Also at the forum was Dr. Teresa Ghilarducci of the New School, and EPI Researcher Kathryn Edwards.

Lake surmises that younger people’s opposition to raising the retirement age could be because Generation Y – her terminology for anyone under 30 – has much higher rates of volunteerism than Generation X and do not view life as a “zero sum game.”

The general finding of numerous surveys conducted by Lake Research Partners discovered voters under 30 are considerably more likely to oppose raising the retirement age than other age groups. When asked whether they favored or opposed increasing the retirement age to 69, an astounding 70 percent of Americans under the age of 30 said they opposed. 61 percent of Americans age 50-64 said they would oppose such a measure and only 46 percent of citizens over 65 said they opposed raising the retirement age.

According to Lake, the remedy to ensure Social Security is around for the younger generations who want it is to remove a little known tax rate cap which only taxes the first $160,000 of a person’s annual income. “Nobody real makes 160,000.” Teresa Ghilarducci provided statistical proof that the elderly are not cannibalizing America’s youth. Wages will increase 35 percent from 2003 to 2030 yet spending on retirement security will only increase 13 percent. “If you spend money on pensions (Social Security), you won’t take away from spending on the youth.”

The possibilities of raising the retirement age, a scare that may become reality after the Obama administration appeared to have finally caved on the topic, leaves the elderly with two scenarios. The first is that they retire sooner and thus, with less than the full amount they had initially anticipated. This will result with a lower material standard of living as the three largest costs for seniors: energy; food; and health care are all rising in cost above inflation. Their other option is to continue working but this has shown to be negative on their health. They also lose much prized leisure time which is linked to a happier and a healthier lifestyle and they would have to fight for a job in the worst economy since the Great Depression.

The belief that people are living longer is skewed because according to Ghilarducci those that are living longer are in the top 2 percent of wealthy Americans. They have better access to health care and can afford to retire or work at their own pace.

Kathryn Edwards, EPI Researcher and author of “A Young Person’s Guide to Social Security” concluded the day with a brief presentation on how to convince young people to care about Social Security. To her the answer is simply just showing them the facts. She praised the Social Security system as it continued to achieve its goal by lowering the poverty rate among seniors even during its hardest test ever in 2007-2009.

She framed the need to protect Social Security in perspective for a recent college graduate. Assuming a person retired when they were eligible 45 years after having graduated college and entered the workforce, they would have lived through: seven recessions; oil shocks; oil embargoes; three bailouts; the dot-com bust; several government shut downs; and too many wars. That is why Americans, young and old, need a system of guaranteed retirement that is paid for by them and their employers.

People in the sixties, fifties, or even forties are unlikely to feel the burn of changes to Social Security according to Edwards but she believes young people are the ones at risk, "it’s yours to lose."

Finally, Edwards succinctly encapsulates the argument for those on the left who want to save Social Security and their frustration at the current climate of axing benefits and raising the retirement age. “If you’re young the only reason why Social Security won’t be there is because we politically came to the conclusion that we cannot afford it.”

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