America in Denial: The Public’s View of the Future of Social Security

Social Security is one of the most popular federal government programs. In the 1996 presidential election, voters listed Social Security and Medicare second only to the economy and jobs as the most important issue in deciding their vote.

Policy experts, national politicians, and opinion leaders have written and spoken extensively about the problems facing the Social Security trust fund and on their views of its prospects for the future. Ordinary American citizens have not been so voluble. We have been probing their views through an analysis of 11 national surveys conducted during 1997-98, including two of our own. What we’ve found is a nation tied up in knots. Americans know that Social Security faces serious financial difficulties. But most also know that they are not saving—and cannot save adequately for their own retirement. Their fears could lead to a paralysis on Social Security reform.