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Readers speak out on Social Security

A selection of reader comments from our mailbag shows a sharp division of opinion on a proposal to reform Social Security.
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Our story about President Bush's proposal to reform Social Security touched a nerve. More than 700 people sent e-mail in response to the story posted last week.

Opinions were split, with many readers concerned that workers would end up losing their retirement nest egg through fraud or a market downturn. Others clearly disliked the current Social Security system and favored a mechanism that would give them personal control over part of their payroll taxes.

Here is a sampling of the responses we got. Some of the comments have been edited for length and style.

AGAINST. I'm a Republican and strongly oppose privatizing Social Security.  I think it's mainly being done to line the pockets of the stockbrokers.  Most people have no idea how to invest and can be talked into anything with the promise of great earnings.
The cost of administering this program would be unbelievable.
Mary Ann Thomas
Nebo, N.C.

FOR. Given the opportunity to save in voluntary personal retirement accounts, if individuals put even half of what is being paid monthly to Social Security, people could retire wealthy instead of in poverty.
Barbara Sezate
Tulsa, Okla.

NOT SURE. I like the idea, but I would like some more information before we commit whole-heartedly to this new plan.  For instance, what happens to the person who is maxing out his voluntary contributions in the personal savings account, and the market takes a dive right around his retirement age?  Now his guaranteed benefit has been reduced substantially, and the money he was hoping to pull from his mutual funds is just not there.  What would happen in this situation?  Is Bush creating a potential time bomb for some future administration down the road?
Travis Powers
Adrian, Mich.

AGAINST. I fully agree that Social Security has to be modified.  Personally, I favor larger payroll deductions combined with delaying the retirement age.  I don't like the idea of individual savings accounts and think that the primary beneficiaries will be the managers with their hands in the retirement pie.
Dennis Crafton
Swampscott, Mass.

FOR. I agree that as long as it is voluntary that partial privatization is a step in the right direction.  The concern that I see is who is going to help those who choose this method to make right and wise choices.
Christine King
New Berlin, Wis.

AGAINST. I think it will be the end to Social Security as we know it. The Republicans have always wanted to get rid of it. It was a Democratic program and the Republicans  are out to destroy it, and they will because nobody cares. They have no idea what it is like to barely make it from paycheck to paycheck.
Dorothea Wilcox
Wasilla, Alaska

FOR. Who could possibly be against voluntary contributions to personal retirement accounts? If I want to take that risk with my money it should be entirely up to me, and shouldn't concern anyone else. Besides, at this point we are only talking about a small fraction of what is currently contributed, up to 4 percent as I've heard. I would love to take all of my contributions and invest it in a personal account that belongs to me. That is infinitely better than the current system where the government takes my money for retirement and spends it on whatever it wants.
Nick Pietrowski

AGAINST. My thoughts on the desirability of any of these plans can be summed up in two words: snake oil. The only persons who will benefit from these plans will be the stockbrokers who will have a guaranteed source of investments. The workers who are now protected by Social Security will ultimately feel the pinch when the stock market periodically goes into a bear market, or worse.
Greg Kocab
Farmington Hills, Mich.

FOR. I agree with voluntary personal retirement account. I am a retiree now and I believe I would be better off financially if this account was established at least during the 15 to 20 years I was employed.
Elpidio Villegas
Hillsboro, Ore.

AGAINST. This would mean the end of Social Security as we know it today and our return to the poorhouse security system we had before we had Social Security. The problem with this proposal is that most of us don't have the slightest clue how to invest in the stock or bond markets and our efforts to do so would result, in essence, to gambling away a substantial portion of our retirement benefits.
Robert Cyr
Saco, Maine

AGAINST. I am opposed to any change in our Social Security system, and I do NOT believe for one moment that the American people interviewed in the poll understand the implications of the changes proposed. After all, 40 percent of the American people believe there is a connection between Iraq and 9/11, so you can't tell me that these very same ignorant people are capable of understanding anything significant about our nation's economy.
Jane Vercelli
Thompson, Conn.

AGAINST. No good!  Although the new plan has the potential to offer great returns on Social Security benefits, it is too risky.  The stock market is too volatile to risk retirement accounts in.  What if the stock market goes sour, what will happen to person's Social Security account?  This system is warping the term Social Security. The government (should) determine if you are entitled to Social Security at retirement age.  If you make too much money, you won't receive Social Security.  But it will be there if you need it.
Tallahassee, Fla.

FOR. I am in favor of  the voluntary personal retirement accounts since it is my own money I have the ability and chance to guard my investment. I feel responsible for the success of my own investment.
Bienvenido Paulino
Jersey City, N.J.

AGAINST. I'm a recently divorced father of two kids, both in college. With the job I have now, working for a major home improvement corporation, I have excellent health benefits. The pay, however, is, to be kind, a bit less than what I really need to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table, not to mention tuition, what to do when the car breaks down, and other living expenses. We barely make it now. So where am I supposed to get money for an individual retirement account?
Alan Trent
Newbury, N.H.

FOR. I'm close to retirement age (64) so it wouldn't affect me, but I'm in favor of personal accounts.  I also think Social Security should be means tested, meaning that people who become wealthy and can finance their own retirement should not get Social Security.  That would be like other insurances that we pay for but often don't use.
Melinda Colvin
Springdale, Wash.

AGAINST. I lost a lot of money in my 401(k), which is very similar to what is being proposed. My view is the brokerage houses are making a ton of money in fees from automatic 401(k) payroll withdrawals. They got a taste of a good thing and they want more. Are they the ones pushing privatizing Social Security? Enron, Global Crossing, etc.? No thanks!
Dennis Russell
Burien, Wash.

FOR. Eventually I would like to see Social Security eliminated.  Reform is a good step to ensuring people are more financially responsible and not dependent on the government.  This is our money and we should decide where it goes, not someone in D.C.
Travis Silvers
Fort Collins, Colo.

AGAINST. The private accounts are a first step to scrapping Social Security. The market will not always be able to produce results.  We just came through corporate scandals and saw life savings evaporated. It's a gamble both destined and intended to fail. When it does fail, lawmakers will state that it was too expensive to maintain and offer that as evidence to scrap the program altogether.
Jennifer McFarland
Milpitas, Calif.

AGAINST. I am strongly against it.  I already have IRA accounts that scare me in terms of return.  I want to be able to depend on a fixed pension amount when I retire, namely Social Security.
Milton Kuninsky
Albuquerque, N.M.

FOR. It's OK as long as retirees who will retire during the next two to five years will not have benefit cuts; they have been earning their promised benefits for many years.
S. Howard

AGAINST. I sincerely hope that the Bush administration does a better job fixing Social Security than it did locating WMDs and waging the Iraq war. 
Harry Davis
Marine City, Mich.