By Jeff Johnson
When CNN’s Jake Tapper asked GOP presidential candidates to explain their plans to strengthen Social Security in the Florida presidential debate March 10, many older Floridians took notice.
But younger Floridians often think Social Security is irrelevant to them. More than half of 18-29 year-olds, 65 percent of 30-49 year-olds and about half of all Americans say Social Security won’t be there for them in later life, according to a 2015 AARP poll.
Wrong. Social Security will continue to pay about three-quarters of scheduled benefits even after the Social Security trust fund is depleted in 2034. Every month, Social Security collects billions of dollars in payroll taxes, and those funds pay for current benefits.
Here’s why Social Security’s future matters to you, and people of any age: If Social Security is not updated and kept strong, after 2034, you stand to lose $4,000 to $10,000 a year in benefits.
That’s a lot of money to lose. So it’s baffling why America’s would-be leaders aren’t explaining Social Security’s future more clearly.
Voters have heard nearly two dozen presidential debates in the 2016 election season, yet fewer than 3 percent of all questions asked so far focused on Social Security. CNN’s questions in Florida stand out as the exception.
That’s just wrong, considering the impact that Social Security has on Floridians and Florida:
- For about half of Florida retirees, Social Security represents about half of their overall income. For 27 percent of current retirees, Social Security is 90 percent of their income or more.
- Because retirement savings continue to be alarmingly low for some, Social Security’s importance will grow. In the just-released Employee Benefits Research Institute (BRI) 2016 Retirement Confidence Survey, 42 percent of U.S. workers surveyed said they had saved less than $10,000 toward retirement. Younger workers are more likely to have slim savings – in 2015, 57 percent of workers age 25-34 reported savings of less than $10,000.
- Social Security is the bedrock on which a successful financial plan can be built. Even a lifetime of faithful saving can be wiped out by stock-market dives, high medical costs or long-term care expenses.
- Keeping Social Security strong helps all of Florida. The program pumps a staggering $5.2 billion a month into Florida’s economy – money that pours in every month, creating jobs and security, even if the housing market falters or big banks tank.
To make sure Social Security is kept strong for our children and grandchildren, AARP has launched a nationwide initiative called Take A Stand ( www.takeastand2016.org). Since last fall, AARP volunteers and staff have worked hard to persuade candidates to explain, with specifics and in detail, exactly how they’d keep Social Security strong.
So far, all candidates for president except the GOP front-runner, Donald Trump, have provided at least one specific proposal to make Social Security financially strong so future generations get adequate benefits. AARP will keep pressing all the candidates to spell out the details of their plans.
At http://takeastand.aarp.org/why-act-now/, AARP provides details of major proposals to change Social Security, from cutting benefits or raising the full retirement age to raising the payroll tax cap. An interactive tool lets you test your favorite solutions to see how they’d bolster Social Security’s future strength.
Ultimately, updating Social Security is a test of leadership. Anyone who aspires to the nation’s highest elected offices should be able to spell out exactly where he or she stands on the future of Social Security.
This fall, tell anyone who asks for your vote: Take a stand.
Jeff Johnson is AARP’s Florida state director.