Most Americans worry that Social Security will be drained in their lifetime. And Gen Z thinks they’ll never see their investment

Social Security turned just 88 this past year, spry all things considered, especially for a nationally implemented federal institution. The same age as Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, the program was passed during the throes of the Great Depression by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to ensure a sense of stability for young people as they age and employed individuals that are unsure of their job’s longevity. Seeking to ensure a level of protection through pensions and unemployment pay, FDR said it would “give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against the loss of a job and against poverty-ridden old age.”

Since then, most Americans have paid taxes towards the program with the promise of receiving payments after they turn 66 or 67 to pave the way to a comfortable retirement. But millennials and Gen Zers have lived under the cloud of the great New Deal program’s impending demise essentially all their lives.

The unsustainability of Social Security has been a major discussion point for both parties, with Republicans historically oppositional to the program, touting points about gutting it and predicting it will go broke and run out. Democrats too have become concerned about Social Security longevity, though typically from the perspective of seeking to preserve Roosevelt’s accomplishment.

It all means that most don’t think they’ll see the fruits of their labor, per a new survey of 1,806 adults from Nationwide and Harris Poll. Next in line to retire, baby boomers are nervous about the stability of their safety net, as 75% of those over 50 report that they’re worried Social Security will run out during their lifetime. In 2014, that number was just 66%. The program is projected to exhaust its cash by 2033, NPR notes, with projections that 66 million people stand to have their benefits curtailed by up to 25%. 

As America ages and baby boomers begin to retire, another problem is posed as the mass exodus of this large generation from the workforce puts extra pressure on Social Security. Retirement has become even more expensive of late, as many experts say that living comfortably into your golden years now requires more than $1 million as people live longer and the cost of living remains relatively high. That all makes the endangered program all the more important. A 2022 Social Security Trustees report signaled that this generation’s worries are not outlandish — estimating that in 2034 retirees will only receive 77% of their benefits if Congress does not update the program.

Gen Z isn’t banking on Social Security being around

While just about everyone is anxious about retirement, the youngest working generation (which has the most time to prepare for the milestone) is especially concerned. Gen Z is the least confident they’ll be able to save enough to retire, according to BlackRock’s 2023 Read on Retirement. Alongside recession-scarred millennials, they’re outpacing older generations in 401(k) contributions in order to address this fear.

And 45% of Gen Zers and 39% of millennials tell Nationwide they don’t think they’ll “get a dime” of the Social Security benefits they’ve earned. Instead, these young generations believe they’ll be saddled with continuing to find gigs into their older age. A large majority of the two younger generations (76%) believe they’ll work into retirement because of the lack of funds that Social Security will be able to provide.

Indeed, without updating, the formally revolutionary program looks to become more like a declawed cat. FDR’s initial passage of Social Security was meant to be the first of following programs. It represented a “cornerstone in a structure which is being built but is by no means complete,” he noted.

“No major Social Security legislation has been passed at all since the early 1980s,” Alicia H. Munnell, the Former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy and Professor at Boston College, told CNBC. “And so we do have this event coming up that forces Congress either to do something, or most people’s benefits are going to be cut by [nearly] 25%.”

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