Associated Press spins its own poll about the public’s perception of Medicare and Social Security

Yesterday the Associated Press released the latest version of its surveys with GfK and it shows that two-thirds of the public say that Social Security or Medicare benefits can’t be cut because they are vital to their financial security as they age.

Hey, let’s face it.  One reason that Americans can spend so much in good times, and thereby serve as Atlas holding up the world’s economy, is that they depend on Social Security and Medicare to take care of a good part of their needs when retired or infirm.

More facts from the survey: 70% said Social Security is “extremely” or “very” important to their financial security in retirement, and 72 percent said so for Medicare.

The story points out that 54 percent believe it’s possible to balance the budget without cutting spending for Medicare, and 59 percent say the same about Social Security.

But the Associated Press does its best to spin the story away from the message the voters are emphatically communicating to elected officials: find another way to balance the budget than taking it away from the elderly.  Instead the article becomes a quiet little hand-wring that the experts have not been able to convince people to sacrifice their retirement benefits, even though the rich are currently paying an historically small share of total taxes.

First and foremost, like every other story I have ever read about the future of Social Security and Medicare, the writer focuses on the short-term and not the long-term.  Check out this statement: “Combined, Social Security and Medicare account for about a third of government spending, a share that will only grow.” True enough, but then the baby boomers will all die and the next generation of seniors will be much smaller, so Social Security and Medicare will not have the current problem it faces: not enough working people to support the growing number of retirees.

Demographers have likened the journey of the baby boomers through life to a rat passing through the snake that has just swallowed it: to the observer, a bulge is moving through the snake, from head to tail.  Because the population of boomers is so much larger than the one that came before it and was followed by a baby bust, wherever the boomers have been in their life cycle, its bulge has created both challenges for society and opportunities for businesses.  

Now we boomers are old, and that means there are more old people than ever before in history.  The very good news is that they’re living longer, which of course means we have the responsibility of paying for their Social Security and Medicare longer.  In a humane society, that should be a problem we all like to have, like the problem of having to pay for a child to go to Stanford or North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Every expert the AP story quotes says that we will have to cut benefits, and these opinions are underscored by statements such as, “Again, there’s a sharp difference between what the public believes and what experts say. Most experts say the programs will be there for generations to come. But they may look very different than they do today, and Americans should take note.”

No one in the article mentions raising taxes, nor does the reporter.  For some reason raising taxes is completely off the table.  And yet we could solve the temporary challenge presented by the baby boom bulge as simply as lifting the limit on income that is assessed the Social Security and Medicare taxes.

I’d like to see AP-GfK ask people if they would be willing to have higher taxes on the wealthy to keep Social Security and Medicare solvent while my rat of a generation completes its journey through the snake of life.  My guess is that Americans would be overwhelmingly in favor of it.  


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