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What Younger Generations Think about Social Security- Maybe Not What You Thought

July 26th, 2011 | Jesci Drake

Jesci“We are in the midst of the most dangerous threat to Social Security I have seen in my lifetime,” exclaimed Ross Eisenbrey, Vice President for the Economic Policy Institute during opening remarks last Wednesday for a panel discussion on young people and Social Security. As discussions got underway it became apparent that while Social Security may be threatened, the youth of America thought it was one of the most important benefits the government provided and Social Security would stay strong as long as politics allowed it.

Celinda Lake, one of the panel members from Lake Research Partners, shared her findings with the audience explaining younger generations were fearful of the economy because of the recent economic crisis, and therefore, opposed any cuts to Social Security, even with the growing deficit. She explained if Social Security wasn’t offered, the older generations would stay in their positions even longer not allowing for the younger generations to take their places in the workforce. She found in her research that younger voters, whom have been hit the hardest by the economy are more supportive towards Social Security, and think it should be guaranteed because employees pay taxes on it. Lake explained that young people do agree with Social Security, so the question needs to be: how do we mobilize them and get that message heard through the polls? Her bottom line was that we can entrust Social Security to young people in the country even if we can’t trust the people in Washington.

The next speaker, Teresa Ghillarduci, author of When I’m 64, The Plot Against Pensions and Plan to Save Them, explained that the days of the 1960’s when men had to continue to work to define themselves has ended. People want the freedom to retire and enjoy life after working 45 years. If we erode retirement savings plans then people will have to stay in the workplace longer and their health and well being is at risk. People who retire when they want to enjoy a much healthier and stress free life, and get to enjoy the freedoms retirement is meant for.

Finally, Kathryn Edwards, author of the Economic Policy Institute’s Young Persons Guide to Social Security, got up and shared her experience when dealing with young people and their views of Social Security in a nutshell. She referred to this idea as the “Youth Challenge: because they don’t think they’ll need it and they don’t think they’ll get it.”  She was quick to point out that Social Security is not, “just money for old people but a system of social insurance.”

Social Security is a program utilized more strongly by the middle class than people think. It is not simply to provide for the elderly who do not have good retirements already, but it is a tool people can rely on and a promise made to them to provide a supplement to them when they are in need and unable to work. Social Security is all about the risk associated with not being able to work whether you are disabled, elderly or suffer from an untimely death. But, the main difference between Social Security and other forms of privatized insurance is that Social Security only spends $.01 for every dollar on administrative costs. This figure would be unheard of in a private insurance provider.

Kathryn’s message was simple in that you cannot outsmart risk, so the bottom line is that you need protection from it. People have fears about the future of Social Security, including the idea that people are living longer and we will run out of money to support them. But, life expectancy increasing over the years is a reason to celebrate Social Security, as it is working and allowing people to live longer because they can live out their elder years more stress free.

According to the research conducted at the Economic Policy Institute, to continue Social Security working smoothly and as promised for the over 53 million people receiving its’ benefits, it would cost only 1.5% of the GDP, which was the same amount spent on national defense between 2001 and 2007. Social Security is a well thought out and functioning plan which has provided people with their chance at enjoying retirement since 1935. The younger generations need to step up and ensure politics don’t get in the way of this honorable American program and break the promise made to millions of American workers.

About the Author: Jesci Drake is a current law student and legal intern for WorkPlace Fainess.

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