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Wendy Reuer, Published November 05 2010

Social Security concerns group

The future of Social Security is a weighted issue on many minds. Even with elections now over, many hope lawmakers are still willing to hear what the public thinks should be done with the possibly faltering system.

An October 2010 study by the AARP and Rockefeller Foundation found that protecting Social Security only fell behind creating jobs in a list of issues of personal importance.

Thursday night, the North Dakota AARP chapter hosted a focus group meant to hear the thoughts of “common people” about the future of Social Security.

“AARP’s position has been Social Security had nothing to do with creating the deficit, so it shouldn’t be considered as a way to fix the deficit,” said Janis Cheney, state AARP director.

There are 76,872 North Dakotans currently receiving Social Security. Of those, 12,872 are people with disabilities, 13,412 widows and widowers, 7,677 children and 7,660 spouses.

In Minnesota, 857,805 people are receiving Social Security benefits. Of those, 584,560 are retirees, 109,472 are people with disabilities, 68,615 are widows and widowers, 57,791 are children, and spouses account for 37,367.

The focus group pulled six random adults ranging in age from 40 to well-past retirement age and varying in sex and socio-economic status.

A sense of pessimism foreboding the future of Social Security was a common thread among the panelists.

“The government doesn’t always seem to want to save what we put in for our future,” Michelle LeMier said.

LeMier said that although many years from retirement, her family would receive more in Social Security benefits if her husband were to die today than if he continues to work – thus paying more into the system – and starts collecting at retirement.

Retiree Don Lindberg was the only panelist who currently receives Social Security, but he feels for the younger generations who are in fear there will be no Social Security left for them to collect. He said if Social Security were to be lost completely, it would lead to chaos.

“In my opinion, Social Security is an entitlement not just for the old people but for the young people growing up. There would be no reason to participate in the economy if young people didn’t believe their efforts would be rewarded,” Lindberg said.

Joe Liu, senior adviser for AARP Office of Social Impact said he hears these common themes from across America. Thursday night’s focus group is one of 10 planned across the nation.

He said he has yet to hear of someone who says they are 100 percent ready to retire and plan to do so without Social Security.

For the members of the focus group, someone wanting to take their opinions to heart was at least one optimistic side to the Social Security debate.

“They only want to hear about it during elections,” Nedzad Kekic, focus group member said. He said this is an issue lawmakers need to hear about from the public not just during election season but while considering the future.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530