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Study: Hispanics Vulnerable In Social Security Change

By Marie Horrigan

March 17, 2005
Copyright © 2005 UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL. All rights reserved.


Washington, DC, Mar. 16 (UPI) -- The debate over Social Security continues unabated, but while President Bush pushed his reform principles Wednesday, a report out of the Pew Hispanic Center posited the country's largest minority will be most vulnerable to changes in the system.

The President agrees the only way to stop this crisis is for Congress to pass common-sense medical liability reform now!

In a White House news conference Bush reiterated his commitment to including personal savings accounts in any final reform package, despite polls indicating the idea is losing favor among Americans.

Bush ceded that private accounts will not improve Social Security's long-term outlook. "Personal accounts do not permanently fix the solution," he said. "They make the solution more attractive for the individual worker, and that's important for people to understand."

Bush repeated his statement that he would put "all options on the table," as he had said in his January State of the Union address, but left the wheeling and dealing to members of Congress.

"I have not laid out a plan yet -- intentionally," he said. "I have laid out principles. I have talked about putting all options on the table because I fully understand the administration must work with the Congress to permanently solve Social Security."

Bush pointed to one plan, by Robert Pozen of the conservative organization Progress for America, to include progressive indexing to help those most dependent on federal benefits.

According to the study released Wednesday by the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington, the intersection of demographics and economics puts Hispanics in a uniquely vulnerable position.

On average, Hispanics are employed in lower-paying jobs and lack work-based pensions or outside assets to fund their retirement. Lacking the cushion from possible benefit cuts, they also are experiencing massive population growth and are skewed younger than other groups in the United States.

While the workforce among white Americans is expected to contract in the next half century, the Hispanic labor force is set to double, the study said.

According to the outlines the president has offered, personal savings accounts would be phased in beginning in 2009. Bush has stipulated that his plan will not affect today's seniors, taking personal accounts and possible benefit cuts out of the picture for Americans age 55 or older.

But, Pew said, Americans between the ages of 45 and 54 will be young enough to be affected by the promised benefit cuts but would not have enough time to capitalize on gains through private accounts.

While one-quarter of whites are 55 and older, and therefore aged out of the proposed changes, only one out of 10 Hispanics will be protected, the study said.

Meanwhile, because Hispanics historically are less apt than whites to accumulate wealth or participate in pension plans, they are likely to remain highly dependent on Social Security benefits.

Despite their unique position, however, a Pew poll conducted Feb. 15 to March 2 of 1,001 Hispanic adults indicated that Hispanics remain divided on the issue of Social Security -- but are more hesitant than the population at large about personal savings accounts.

Respondents to the Pew poll were nearly divided on whether Social Security was in a crisis, with 47 percent saying yes and 43 percent saying no. A plurality of respondents -- 49 percent -- threw their support behind personal savings accounts as in Bush's plan vs. 38 percent who said they opposed it and 12 percent who said they did not know.

Among the total population, a recent Gallup poll indicated the president was right in his assertion Wednesday that his administration is making progress in raising awareness about the issues facing Social Security. Respondents ranked Social Security as the top issue facing the United States in the next 25 years, far ahead of national security, federal debt and education.

A separate ABC News/Washington Post survey found that 55 percent of respondents opposed Bush's proposals for Social Security. Possible reforms -- including increasing the retirement age, reducing benefits to early retirees and increasing the payroll tax rate -- received almost universal condemnation.

But through the opposition, two options appeared palatable to Americans. More people supported than opposed a change to tax total income, instead of income up to $90,000 as the current system does. Fifty-six percent of respondents also said they would support a plan in which people could choose to invest some of their Social Security contributions in the stock market.

Bush alluded to the poll results in his news conference Wednesday. "There's all kinds of polls. ... One I read the other day said people like the idea of personal accounts," he said. "I think people like the idea of being able to take some of their own money -- in other words, government says, 'You can decide, as opposed to we'll decide for you; you get to decide if this is in your interest.'"

However, that same poll also indicated that despite Bush's claims of ownership on the issue, Americans trust Democratic lawmakers more than their Republican counterparts to take care of the issue in Congress.

Hispanics appear to be less concerned about the issue, the Pew report said. While respondents to the Pew Hispanic Center poll indicated they supported taxing the wealthy and opposed reducing benefits to the general population, relatively few respondents said they were doing enough to plan for retirement.

At the same time, the poll indicated, one-quarter of respondents said they expected to depend on Social Security benefits as their main source of income even though more than half of today's Hispanic seniors depend on benefits for more than 90 percent of their income.

"Looking to the future, it is impossible to assess with confidence how Latinos will finance their retirements," the study said.

The president, however, indicated Wednesday that he lacks the cure-all for the problem. "I urge members (of Congress) to start talking about how we're going to permanently fix Social Security. The members, I hope, would not talk about a Band-Aid solution, but I think it's important for them to talk about a permanent fix, something that will last forever."

But, he said, he had no intention of being the first person to offer up a program.

"The first bill on the Hill always is dead on arrival," he said with a chuckle.

"I'm interested in coming up with a permanent solution. I'm not interested in playing political games."

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