March 16, 2005

Hispanics and the Social Security Debate

V. Hispanic Views of the Social Security Debate

In a national survey conducted between February 15 and March 5, 2005, Hispanics were almost evenly divided over whether the Social Security system faced severe problems. The survey also found that a plurality of Latinos favored a plan of the sort proposed by President Bush that would allow people to individually invest some of their Social Security taxes, but support for the idea fell just short of a majority. Sentiments were much clearer in favor of measures that would limit eligibility or benefits for the wealthiest recipients and against proposals that would reduce the payout to the general population. Finally, the survey found that relatively few Latinos think they are doing enough planning for retirement and that only a quarter expect to rely on Social Security as their main source of income.

Comparing the results of this survey with public opinion polls of the general population taken during the same period, Latinos appear somewhat less concerned about the future of the Social Security system although their views on potential policy changes are very similar to those of the U.S. population as a whole.

The survey was conducted by telephone among a nationally representative sample of 1,001 Hispanic adults using Random Digit Dialing (RDD) methodology. Respondents could choose to respond to the survey in English or Spanish. The survey results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent. All of the fieldwork was conducted by International Communications Research of Media, PA.

The survey asked two questions designed to probe respondents’ views on the extent to which the Social Security system faces problems, and both showed Latinos almost evenly divided in their assessments.

Which of these statements do you think best describes the Social Security system: It is in a state of crisis, it has major problems, it has minor problems, or it does not have problems?

Do you think the Social Security system will have the money available to provide the benefits you expect for your retirement?

Concerns were considerably greater among Latinos with higher incomes than among those with lower incomes; 72 percent with annual household incomes of $50,000 or more said they thought the system was in crisis or had major problems, while just 47 percent of those with incomes of less than $25,000 held this view. Similarly, Latinos with at least some college education were more concerned about the condition of the system than were those with a high school education or less.

Surveys of the general public taken during the same time period show greater levels of concern, with as many as two thirds of respondents in some polls saying that the Social Security system is in crisis or will run short of money in the future. In this regard the views of U.S.-born Latinos more nearly mirror the views of the general population than do those of the foreign-born. Among the U.S.-born 59 percent said they thought the Social Security system was in crisis or faced major problems compared with 40 percent of foreign-born Latinos.

Asked whether they thought a plan of the sort proposed by President Bush that would allow the investment of some Social Security taxes in individual accounts was a good or a bad idea, more Latinos responded positively than negatively, but the share endorsing the plan fell slightly short of a majority. Latinos under the age of 35 were somewhat more supportive of the proposal than those over the age of 55, and those born outside the United States were more supportive than those born here. Latino views of the Bush proposal are similar to those of the general public. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 46 percent of Americans supported the president’s proposal for individual investment accounts and 38 percent opposed it.

As you may know, one idea to address concerns with the Social Security system would allow people who retire in future decades to invest some of their Social Security taxes in the stock market and bonds, but would reduce the guaranteed benefits they get when they retire. Do you think this is a good idea or a bad idea?

Presented with a series of alternative measures, Latinos by significant margins said they favored proposals that would increase taxes or reduce benefits to wealthy recipients and were equally opposed to proposals that would reduce benefits to the population as a whole. As with the Bush proposal, Latino views on these options closely mirror the attitudes expressed by the population as a whole.

Assuming there would be no change in Social Security benefits for those who are now age 55 or older, do you think each of the following would be a good idea or a bad idea to address concerns with the Social Security system? How about:

a. limiting benefits for wealthy retirees

b. requiring higher-income workers to pay Social Security taxes on ALL their wages

c. further reducing the total amount of benefits a person would receive if they retired early

d. increasing the age at which people are eligible to receive full benefits

e. reducing retirements benefits for people who are currently under age 55

f. doing nothing to the Social Security system and leaving the taxes and benefits as they are today.

Respondents who indicated they were not retired – more than 90 percent of the full sample – were asked about their current expectations for retirement income. By a margin of five to one, Latinos said they were dissatisfied with the state of their retirement planning. Only a quarter said they expected Social Security to be a major source of retirement income.

(Asked of those not currently retired; n=925)
How much planning would you say you’ve done for your retirement – enough planning considering your present age, some but not enough planning considering your present age, or no planning at all?

When you retire, how much do you expect to rely on Social Security: as your main source of income, a minor source of income, or not at all?