Just about everyone in America has a stake in Social Security. Perhaps for that reason, there is a surprising level of agreement across the political spectrum about the types of changes we’d like to see in the nation’s retirement program to address a looming funding shortfall.
Recently, the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation surveyed about 2,500 registered voters and found that large majorities of both Democrats and Republicans agreed on proposals to both increase revenue and trim benefits.
Following are key areas in which both “red” and “blue” voters are on the same page — and a few cases where they are breaking with the longstanding orthodoxy of their political parties.
1. Make more wages subject to the payroll tax
Respondents who favor this proposal: 81%
During the 2020 presidential campaign, then-candidate Joe Biden proposed raising payroll taxes for those with more than $400,000 in annual earnings. As it stands in 2022, payroll taxes are limited to only workers’ first $147,000 in earnings.
The goal of Biden’s proposal was to help bring more revenue into the Social Security program’s coffers. As it stands today, the program’s trust funds will be emptied in 2035. Unless something is done to address the shortfall, just 80% of benefits will be payable at that point.
Americans in both parties overwhelmingly agree with Biden’s approach to shoring up Social Security, with more than three-quarters supporting a move to make all wages above $400,000 subject to the tax.
If it became law, Biden’s plan would reduce the program’s shortfall by a whopping 61%. However, to date, the effort to make more wages subject to payroll tax has stalled.
2. Reduce benefits for high earners
Respondents who favor this proposal: 81%
By and large, Americans also feel that full Social Security payments should be limited to those who really need them.
Overwhelming majorities in both parties agree that the concept of means-testing benefits is an idea worth pursuing, and they support reducing benefits for the top 20% of earners. The Program for Public Consultation says this could reduce the Social Security program’s shortfall by 11%.
It is somewhat surprising that Republicans are so supportive of this proposal, given that they traditionally have been reluctant to tax higher earners simply because they are wealthier.
3. Increase the retirement age
Respondents who favor this proposal: 75%
Now, a surprise from Democrats: About three-quarters of those aligned with the Democratic Party think the retirement age associated with Social Security should be gradually raised from 67 to 68. This would reduce the Social Security shortfall by about 14%.
The fact that “blue” voters support such a change appears to fly in the face of Democratic Party orthodoxy. Party stalwarts have historically been more likely to try to expand rather than reduce eligibility for government programs such as Social Security and Medicare.
For example, Biden has suggested that people who are 60 should be eligible for Medicare, the federal health insurance program for seniors, which is five years sooner than the current qualifying age of 65.
4. Increase the payroll tax
Respondents who favor this proposal: 73%
It’s no fun seeing FICA taxes take a bite out of every paycheck. And yet, Americans are willing to sacrifice even more of their income if it shores up the Social Security program.
Large majorities are OK with increasing the payroll tax from 6.2% to 6.5%, which would reduce the program’s shortfall by 16%.
5. Increase the minimum benefit
Respondents who favor this proposal: 64%
Strong majorities of voters in both parties also believe the minimum monthly benefit for those who have worked for 30 years should be increased from $951 to $1,341.
Unlike the other proposals on this list, this change would actually worsen the Social Security program’s financial picture, increasing the shortfall by 7%. But apparently, voters in both parties simply think it is the right thing to do.
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