I don't bring up Social Security much around my friends, probably because it's not exactly the most riveting topic, but mainly because I know most of us in our twenties haven't given our retirement much thought. In fact, when I finally did bring it up, it soon became clear that 1) almost nobody knew the basics, and 2) just about everybody thought Social Security wasn't going to be around when they got older.
Unfortunately, my friends aren't alone on this one. In fact, they're pretty typical. As highlighted in Retirement USA's Wake Up, Washington! initiative to increase awareness of Social Security among youth and other affected groups, AARP released a survey this year, showing that while 9 in 10 young adults (18-29 year-olds) believe that Social Security is an important program, only a third (33%) are confident that Social Security has a future. We don't think Social Security is going to be there for our retirement - and yet as far as I know, there isn't a large unit of concerned young adults mobilizing under the flag "Young People to Save Social Security!"
This wouldn't concern me so much if Social Security wasn't becoming a prime target for deficit hawks and special interest groups, who claim that Social Security is a drain on government funds (despite having funded itself through a dedicated payroll tax for 75 years). Our "vote of no confidence" in Social Security only adds fuel to policies for benefit cuts, retirement age increases (also a benefit cut), or even long-run privatization of the entire system. It's easier to chip away at the program when an entire generation of voters grew up believing that the program was never going to make it anyway.
This might all be solved if we ever bothered to educate ourselves beyond what we "think" we know about one of the country's oldest and most successful programs. Try to remember why you first thought Social Security wasn't going to make it by the time you retire. Then do yourself a favor and find out for yourself. If you, did you might find out that Social Security is not in crisis, that the Social Security Administration already planned for the baby boomer retirees in 1983, or that Social Security's long-run shortfall is small and easily manageable with reform. In a nutshell: an easy fix.
This is why the current state of pessimism (or apathy) is not only depressing, it's downright unacceptable. Why don't we care more? Don't we know what we'd be losing? Maybe we don't realize that the people who are going to feel the effects of a cut in Social Security benefits - or a cut in the entire program - are us. It's difficult for most of us to understand how important Social Security is because most of us have yet to receive benefits from the program. But I know that I, personally, don't want somebody else to take it away because it provides such important protection against the curveballs life could throw at you. I want the privilege of learning about how important it is the way everybody else learned about it - when they got their first check because they were disabled, when the breadwinner in their family died, or when they finally reached retirement. So that when I get older I can look back and see that when I needed it, it was there - not that when I needed it, it wasn't.
Social Security represents the very best of what a government program can be. But more than that, it's a program that we may not fully understand yet, but that we'll definitely need in the future.