Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Fixing Social Security - deliberation in review

Fixing Social Security means some people will get short-changed for the good of the program.

At least, that was the perspective of most participants at a public issues forum I hosted by University of Missouri Extension in early 2006.

The forum was aimed at deliberating Social Security, whether or not it needs to be fixed and some possible ways to fix it.

Participants (even those approaching retirement) agreed with reducing Social Security benefits by eliminating the $250 funeral benefit, slowing annual "cost-of-living increases and removing the $90,000 ceiling on payroll taxes.

A majority of attendees also agreed with lowering benefits for middle- and upper-income retirees, requiring Americans to work longer before becoming eligible for Social Security benefits and reducing the number of non-retirement related programs Social Security funds.

The group also thought it was important to revisit the purpose of Social Security. President Roosevelt said it should be one leg of a three-legged stool (pension, savings and Social Security) instead of what it has become – the only source of retirement for many.

The first approach deliberated dealt with personal accounts, which, the group opposed. Too many questions and concerns, the greatest of which was serious doubt that Americans would be able to manage personal accounts.

Approach two of the deliberation emphasized the promise that has been made to working Americans and retires. The group agreed Social Security needs to be kept viable although no one thought the promise could be maintained at its current level.

In the post meeting survey, 90 percent of participants agreed with this statement: "We need to make drastic changes to save Social Security from bankruptcy." Sixty percent of participants agreed with this statement: "We should scale back Social Security to encourage people to take more responsibility for their financial future."

Revising Social Security for a new generation was considered in approach number three.
Participants felt like we need to begin the process of rewriting Social Security now but not implement new rules on people over age 55.

In the post meeting survey, 80 percent of participants agreed with this statement: "We should slightly reduce Social Security benefits for middle- and upper-income retirees to guarantee benefits for those who need them most."

What attendees at this meeting said loud and clear is that Social Security needs an overhaul that ignores partisan politics and instead focuses on making sure the program remains solvent without increasing payroll taxes.

Notes from the Nov. 3 forum are online at
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