All the talk about the supposed need to cut Social Security hasn’t had a noticeable impact outside the Beltway, where support for the program remains strong across demographic and political lines. A survey commissioned by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and the Rockefeller Foundation found that 61 percent of women and 54 percent of men support increasing Social Security benefits. That’s perfectly rational, considering that benefits replace a shrinking share of pre-retirement earnings even without additional cuts.
While women and Democrats show the strongest support for social insurance programs, even Republican men oppose Social Security and Medicare cuts. And contrary to the stereotype that people care only about themselves and aren’t willing to pay for government programs, when surveyed about taxes the most enthusiastic response was to the following statement: “I don’t mind paying Social Security taxes because it provides security and stability to millions of retired Americans, the disabled, and the children and widowed spouses of diseased workers.” Roughly nine in 10 women (88 percent) and eight in 10 men (82 percent) agreed with that sentiment, even more than the majority who said they didn’t mind paying Social Security taxes because they knew they themselves would receive benefits when they retired.
The Great Recession and bursting of the housing and stock market bubbles has only strengthened support for social insurance programs, which is not surprising since we tend to take such programs for granted until we really need them. Only 37 percent of women and 44 percent of men now expect to maintain their standard of living in retirement, whereas a majority of both women and men thought their retirement savings had been adequate before the recession (they were probably wrong, but that’s another story). This doesn’t just reflect generalized anxiety: while the share of respondents who worried about ending up in a nursing home increased only modestly since 2007, the share who worried about not having enough money to live on and not being able to afford health care in retirement jumped markedly, as did the share worried about Social Security being cut back or eliminated (63 percent of women and 54 percent of men are now worried about Social Security cuts, up from 55 percent of women and 41 percent of men in 2007).