Most AARP members oppose Social Security privatization

cedar rapids, iowa | A new survey shows six in 10 AARP members oppose President Bush’s proposal to carve out private investment accounts from the nation’s Social Security program.

The poll by the nation’s leading lobby for elderly citizens found that 46 percent of members strongly oppose creating private accounts that would divert money from Social Security and another 13 percent oppose private accounts altogether.

The survey also found that nearly half of members age 50 and older believe Social Security has flaws that require an overhaul, but the majority believe in reforming the system rather than replacing it.

“AARP members not only dislike private accounts … they really dislike them,” said AARP research director Jeff Love, who released the results of the national survey at a news conference last month.

The release of the poll coincided with Bush’s visit later for a town hall forum on his Social Security plan.

Bush has made fixing Social Security one of his top domestic priorities and is touring the country touting his plan for revamping the system by allowing participants to divert a portion of their Social Security tax into investments such as stocks and bonds.

Experts predict the retirement program will begin paying out more than it takes in by 2017 and go broke by 2041, prompting calls by the president and others to overhaul the program immediately.

But the survey found that the more AARP members learned about the president’s plan, the less they liked it. The poll shows 29 percent initially favor diverting up to $1,300 into private accounts, but nearly half of those change their opinion after learning about the possible side effects of the plan.

Love said a potential cut in future benefits and the costs associated with implementing Bush’s proposal — costs that would add to the national debt — were the leading reasons members opposed private accounts.

Bush has said his plan would not lead to a cut in benefits, while critics have claimed that transition costs could add more than $2 trillion to the national debt.

The survey also found that nearly 60 percent of members would vote against a lawmaker who voted in favor of Bush’s current proposal.

“AARP members know that Social Security needs to be strengthened for the future,” said Bruce Koeppl, AARP director in Iowa, a state with the nation’s fourth largest percentage of residents 65 and over.

“They’ve seen how important Social Security has been to them and they want to make sure that their children and grandchildren can count on the same support system,” he said.

Members who favor investing in the market were divided in the intensity of their support, with 15 percent in strong favor and 14 percent somewhat in support, according to poll results.

The poll also found that nearly two-thirds of members believe that allowing workers to invest some of their payroll taxes in private investments will weaken Social Security, with 20 percent saying it will strengthen the program.