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Economic Crisis Fuels Support for Social Security

Poll Shows Americans Willing to Pay Higher Taxes to Ensure Social Security Benefits

For Immediate Release: August 13, 2009

Contact: NASI - Jill Braunstein at jbraunstein@nasi.org or (202) 452-8097; Rockefeller Foundation - Teresa Wells or Laura Gordon at (212) 852-8454 or twells@rockfound.org

WASHINGTON, DC – On the eve of the 74th anniversary of Social Security, nearly nine in ten (88%) Americans say Social Security is more important than ever as a result of today's economic crisis, and three-quarters of Americans say it is critical to preserve Social Security even if it means that working Americans have to pay higher taxes to do so, according to a poll released today by the National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI) and the Rockefeller Foundation.

The poll of 1,488 Americans, conducted between July 7-14 by the Benenson Strategy Group, sends a strong message to policymakers about the value that Americans place on Social Security benefits for themselves and the country as a whole – with over 75 percent of Americans saying that Social Security is or will be an important part of their retirement and nearly half of recipients stating that they would be unable to afford food, clothing or housing without it.

With the vast importance that Social Security has in the lives of so many Americans, an overwhelming number – 90 percent – want Congress to act within the next two years to preserve Social Security. Americans are willing to pay for Social Security because they value it for themselves (72%), for their families (75%), and for the security and stability it provides to millions of retired Americans, disabled individuals, and children and widowed spouses of deceased workers (87%).

“The recession underscores the critical role Social Security fills for working families and retirees across the nation,” said Kenneth S. Apfel, Chair of the NASI Board of Directors and Commissioner of Social Security from 1997 to 2001. “On the eve of the 74th anniversary of the signing of the Social Security Act, it is striking to see how deeply Americans value the program, they want to preserve and improve it, and they are willing to pay for it.”

"In these challenging economic times, Americans are calling on their leaders to ensure that Social Security remains a strong, sustainable safety net," said Judith Rodin, the Rockefeller Foundation's president. "Seventy-four years ago, the Rockefeller Foundation helped inform Social Security's inception and implementation. Today, we're proud to build on that legacy by supporting a new generation of products and policies that bolster resilience to economic risk and protect Americans' retirements."

“The recession has changed the way Americans think about their future,” said Joel Benenson, President of the Benenson Strategy Group. “Americans have re-learned that we can't always count on the stock market, so we need to be able to count on Social Security. Americans are willing to invest in the peace of mind Social Security provides.”

With about 31 million Americans expected to retire in the next decade, the impact of today's economic situation on worker insecurity is clear from the poll, as 65 percent of Americans want to see an increase in Social Security as a result of lost savings and 78 percent of Americans are concerned about having enough money for retirement.

Large majorities of Americans support strengthening benefits for those who need them most.

  • 78% support extending benefits to children under age 22 of deceased or disabled parents while attending college or vocational school;
  • 76% support increasing benefits for widowed spouses of low-earning couples;
  • 75% support increasing benefit for people over the age of 85;
  • 69% support improving benefits for steady, low-paid workers at retirement; and
  • 64% support improving benefits for working parents who take time off to care for children.

For more on the poll findings, see Americans' Views on Social Security.

The Rockefeller Foundation's Campaign for American Workers Initiative supports the development of new rules and new tools for the 21st century economy though innovative products and policies to increase economic security within the U.S. workforce, particularly among poor and vulnerable workers.

The National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI) is a non-profit, nonpartisan organization made up of the nation's leading experts on social insurance. Its mission is to promote understanding of how social insurance contributes to economic security and a vibrant economy.