(/sites/default/files/uploads/2010/06/496b9f97-0012f-04d14-cdbc8767.jpg)Only 11 percent of workers and 8 percent of retirees feel any “confidence” in the federal government, a new national poll discovered. It also found a huge majority of working Americans don’t believe Social Security and Medicare will be there for them when they retire. These findings can be seen as a dramatic and seminal judgment of the policies and operations of the Obama administration and the Congress.
In addition, these attitudes, expressed in a poll of a representative sample of Americans, are a significant socioeconomic development in the life of the tried and supposedly true programs of Social Security and Medicare. Since its birth in 1935, the Social Security System has been fondly called America’s most popular program. For nearly one-third of recipients, it has provided their entire income. And Medicare, the health-care program for the aging since 1965, not only has won the confidence of the elderly it has helped to keep many chronically ill seniors alive. But now most retirees, as well, are doubtful about the future benefits promised by Social Security and Medicare, the new poll revealed.
These upsetting attitudes toward the federal government and its major long-standing programs were discovered in the 2010 Retirement Confidence Survey, a representative national sample of 1,153 adults conducted by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) and Mathew Greenwald & Associates, a public opinion company. This was the 20th annual survey of EBRI, a non-partisan Washington-based organization. It is engaged in original public policy research and education on economic security and employee benefits and attitudes. It is supported by 30 large, well-known American companies and private individuals.
When those working Americans were asked by EBRI “if the Social Security System will continue to provide benefits of at least equal value to the benefits received by retirees today” only 6 percent of the men and 7 percent of the women were confident that this would be the case. When the sample of the nation’s working adults were asked “if the Medicare system will continue to provide benefits received by retirees today,” even lower percentages showed any confidence. Only 5 percent of men and 4 percent of women responded they were sure this medical-care benefit would be available for them.
Even among current retirees, only 11 percent expressed confidence that Social Security benefits will continue to pay current benefits to them. Seventeen percent said they were “not at all” sure. When asked about Medicare, only 7 percent are confident it will serve them in the future. But 17 percent of the retirees answered that they were “not at all” confident about Medicare’s future. This, despite a strong pitch from Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about Medicare sent by first class postage in a slick brochure to all 44 million households with Medicare recipients.
The principal purpose of the Retirement Confidence Survey, of course, was to measure workers and retirees plans and attitudes concerning retirement. But the EBRI study said Americans “are most likely to express confidence in private employers (23 percent of workers and 27 percent of retirees very confident).” They also said they were very confident about banks and insurance companies, but “least likely to feel confidence in the federal government.”
President Obama’s favorability rating has dropped significantly in the past six months according to a Pew Research poll. Obama’s competence has been questioned in dealing with the massive Gulf oil spill, the faint economic crawl-back, the gigantic national debt, his unpopular health care law, and troubles abroad. According to a CBS/New York Times poll on June 16, the approval rating of Congress was only 19 percent, while 70 percent disapproved of the performance of our legislative branch. Citizens have watched fearfully as Congress made deep cuts in Medicare, doubled the national debt, threatened growth-killing taxes, and passed authoritarian energy policies. In early March, CNN said, summarizing the results of its CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, that the majority of Americans say “the government poses an immediate threat to individual rights and freedoms.”
Even the liberal Huffington Post in a June 18 article on pending financial reform in the Senate sounded a pained chord: “Is this the Democratic Party I know and support? Is this the Black Caucus? The Hispanic Caucus? The Progressive Caucus? The Obama Administration? Where is the fairness in this amendment?”
Even Germany joined the critics of deficit spending June 2, rebuking the Obama Administration over its red ink policies, the Washington Times reported, indicating a looming fight over deficits as global leaders headed for a summit of the Group of Eight industrial powers.
Obama in April appointed a bipartisan debt panel to struggle with how to shrink the government’s red ink. At its first meeting, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and then-White House Budget Director Peter Orszag pointed to the potential for our national debt to precipitate an economic crisis. Bloomberg Businessweek reported: “The challenge facing the panel is devising a plan proposing hundreds of billions in tax increases and spending cuts that can get backing from at least 14 of 18 members of the panel.” The federal debt, it noted, is “projected to reach 90 percent of the U.S. economy by 2020. Interest rates are forecast to quadruple to more than $900 billion annually by that year.“ The panel’s recommendations are not due until December 1. Panel co-chairman former Senator Alan Simpson (R-Wyo) described the difficulty of reaching a recommendation as “like giving dry birth to a porcupine.”
House majority Leader Steny Hoyer, in a speech June 22 said that Democrats can take care of the country’s debt problems. He said everything from defense spending to raising the retirement age for Social Security is on the table when taking on the nation’s fiscal problems:
On the spending side, we could and should consider a higher retirement age, or one pegged to lifespan, more progressive Social Security and Medicare benefits, and a stronger safety net for the Americans who need it most. It isn’t possible to debate and pass a realistic and long-term budget until we’ve considered the bipartisan commission’s deficit reduction plan…
The top six most important problems facing the nation according to a June 17 Gallup Poll are the “economy in general,” “Unemployment/Jobs,” “Natural disaster response/Relief,” “Dissatisfaction with government,” “Healthcare,” and “Federal budget deficit.” All are testing the competence of President Obama. Meanwhile, it seems, America is expected to play a waiting game.