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Democratic National Convention: What Does America's Youth Think of Social Security?

Aired August 14, 2000 - 2:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: In campaign 2000, one of the most talked-about issues so far has been Social Security, the so-called "third rail" of American politics. Both Al Gore and George W. Bush say they have plans to save the system.

For more on that matter, I'm joined by Hans Riemer, he is the founder and director of 2030 Center, a Washington-based public policy organization for young adults.

Mr. Riemer, what are the feelings of young adults about all of this touching of the third rail?

HANS RIEMER, DIRECTOR, 2030 CENTER: I think people are very pleased that the issue is on the top of the agenda, but I think that young people are really looking to look beyond the sound bites. Everyone says they want to save Social Security, but what are you going to do, how are you going to do it, where are your numbers and how do they add up. I think that's the level we're reaching now.

WATERS: And the thought by many 30-something young adults, that they may never see Social Security in their lifetime. How does that factor into promises of a better retirement because of partial privatization of their payroll taxes?

RIEMER: Well, the lack of confidence is a central theme. Support for private accounts, I think, is strong in that regard, but it's also quite superficial. And I think what we see is that if your private accounts require raising the retirement age, or cutting benefits, they're not necessarily -- that is not popular. It's not necessarily a good approach at all. That young peoples' interests in private accounts is much less than their antipathy toward having to retire at 73, which has been a major element of most privatization plans in the past. So the tradeoffs are really what it's all about.

WATERS: You may have heard yesterday Senator Joe Lieberman saying that raising the retirement age must remain on the table. He's at odds there with his presidential running mate.

RIEMER: Well, I think that what I would draw from that is that under the governor's plan, for example, or many other privatization plans, raising the retirement age is an inevitability, because you've diverted so much money out of the fund it's nearly dismantled. Clearly, if in 2050 or 2060 we need to raise the retirement age, we can sit down and talk about it, but I don't see any reason to enact it at this point of the game, when we have good options to improve the health of the fund. Vice president's plan gets a fully solvent, full benefits all the way past 2055. That's a good start.

WATERS: Have you found out if there is a generation gap on this issue, young and old people think alike, or think differently?

RIEMER: They -- it's interesting. Young people are more receptive to the idea of investing than older Americans. However, when you present the trade-offs on policy, you find that young people are actually very similar to older voters. They reject privatization plans once the costs are spelled out just as -- the same proportion as other populations.

WATERS: What -- let's get back to this raising the retirement age again, because of the fact that when Social Security came into being the retirement -- you know, the retirement age is 65. And people were sometimes living 45, 50 years, now they are living much longer and will continue to live longer.

RIEMER: And it's the blessing of our generation that we will live longer than any generation that has ever come before in history. But I also believe that it's premature to raise the retirement age now, that -- for example, the surplus -- the money that is being budgeted for these massive tax cuts is enough to extend Social Security solvency to 2050, 2055. If we make the payroll tax more fair -- right now, all income above $75,000 has no social security tax, if you change that, the system is solvent until 2070, 2080. How much more do we want?

I think we could discuss raising the retirement age in 50 years, whenever it's absolutely necessary. But now, taking steps that will undermine solvency of Social Security, as privatization would, causing an increase in the retirement age, just seems to me is the wrong way to go.

WATERS: Well, we, like you, will be waiting to hear the nuts and bolts on Social Security. Hans Riemer, thanks so much.

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