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Most Americans are worried that Social Security will run out in their lifetimes, and those fears have only gotten worse amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
That’s according to a survey from financial services company Nationwide, which found that 71% of adults felt that way. Fears about the benefits program were highest among Gen Xers, at 83%, and millennials, with 77%, while just 61% of baby boomers agreed.
What’s more, 47% of millennials said they believe “they will not get a dime of the Social Security benefits they have earned.”
Many Americans — 59% — say they are more pessimistic now about the program running out of funding following the onset of the pandemic. Meanwhile, 19% say Covid-19 has prompted them to reconsider their plans for claiming benefits, with 11% planning to delay filing and 9% planning to claim earlier.
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The trust funds on which Social Security relies to pay benefits have been running low. The last official projection by the Social Security Administration indicated those funds could run out in 2035, at which point 79% of promised benefits would be payable. That estimate did weigh any pandemic effects.
Even so, fears that the program will run dry and benefit checks will stop are unfounded, said Shai Akabas, director of economic policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center.
“Many people hear the words insolvent or bankrupt and they automatically assume the program is just going to disappear,” Akabas said.
“In reality, Social Security has been around for well over 80 years now and it has more support than just about any other government function,” he said. “It is highly unlikely that it is going to disappear anytime soon.”
While it is likely there will be a fix, Congress is taking a long time to act. That can create uncertainty for Americans who are trying to plan for their retirement, Akabas said.
Moreover, the sooner lawmakers act, the less dramatic those changes may be. Higher taxes, benefit cuts or a combination of both are among the adjustments they would likely consider.
“It is not so serious and significant that the program is going to disappear,” Akabas said. “But it is also not such an easy fix that we can wait for the last minute and just patch it overnight.”
Benefit cuts would likely be less than 25%, if they happen at all, based on research, said Joe Elsasser, founder and president of Covisum, a Social Security claiming company.
To help calm those fears, and enable people to plan, Covisum recently debuted an online tool to show how Social Security benefit cuts would affect a person’s monthly checks. Notably, the calculator does not include a scenario where benefits disappear altogether.
“The likelihood of it going to zero is as close to zero as you can get,” Elsasser said.
Nationwide’s survey was conducted online by the Harris Poll between April 19 and May 7. It included 1,931 U.S. adults.