Six Reasons Young People Should Care about Social Security

Copyright © 2012 AARP. All rights reserved.

If you have years until retirement, you have a vital stake in the future of Social Security. For starters, proposals to modify benefits — such as by raising the retirement age or reducing benefit levels — usually are designed with younger workers in mind. Whatever you may think of the nation’s budget issues and how best to address them, it’s worth knowing that future beneficiaries would feel the brunt of proposals aimed at curbing Social Security benefits.

If you’re a young person, that future beneficiary is you.

Here are six reasons that young people have a stake in preserving a strong Social Security program — for themselves and for future generations.

If you’re lucky, you’ll be old someday

Social Security benefits don’t just go to someone else. Someday, they’ll go to you. Maybe envisioning old age is difficult if you’re still young, but no matter how old you are, you can probably agree with the following:

  • You want to be secure in your later years.

  • You want to be as independent as you can.

  • You don’t want to worry about the necessities.

  • You don’t want to lean on others to help pay your bills.

Your parents will be old even sooner

Even if Social Security still seems like some far-off concern to you personally, it may already be helping your parents. As a loving child, presumably you want your parents to have independence and dignity after a lifetime of hard work. For most middle-class families, Social Security makes that possible.

Yet that’s not the whole story. By helping your parents stay independent, Social Security may offer you an advantage you don’t much think about. There’s no delicate way to put this: Do you want your folks to move in with you?

You’re paying into the system now

One easy-to-grasp reason young workers have a stake in Social Security is that they’re helping to pay for it. Social Security payroll tax contributions come straight out of your paycheck and add up to many thousands of dollars over the years. Many people, particularly those of moderate income, pay more money in Social Security taxes than they do in income taxes. In return, they earn Social Security benefits for themselves and their dependents — benefits they may need long before retirement if misfortune strikes.

You benefit when Social Security keeps people out of poverty

Social Security keeps more people out of poverty than food stamps, earned income tax credits for the poor, and unemployment insurance combined. As a result, all of society benefits.

Social Security has become the nation’s most successful anti-poverty program, keeping more than 20 million Americans out of poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That includes more than 1 million children and more than one-third of older Americans. If Social Security were to play a smaller role in easing hardship, demand would soar for other services provided by the federal government and the states, creating pressure to raise taxes.

Social Security ensures that time doesn’t eat away at your benefit

Social Security shields benefits from economic erosion in two primary ways:

  • The benefit formula makes sure that payments increase from one generation to the next with growth in average wages.

  • Social Security is designed to keep up with rising prices (a feature that isn’t part of most pension plans).

Social Security benefits are supposed to be meaningful, not quaint relics of the past. The built-in wage and inflation protections mean that the benefits you earn while you’re younger will retain real purchasing power when you need them.

You may need benefits sooner than you think

Even when you’re young, you may be covered by Social Security for important benefits. These protections may apply not only to you but also to your immediate family. It’s natural to think of Social Security as a retirement program. But millions of people benefit from survivor and disability benefits.

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