Americans Aware of Changes to Social Security, Tax and Benefits Programs

New York, N.Y. – February 11, 2011 – Recently changes were made which affect the amount that Americans contribute to programs through their paychecks as well as to some of the benefits that they receive. A majority of U.S. adults say they are familiar with the changes to extend unemployment benefits (69%), extend the Bush-era tax cuts (65%) and the recent changes to Social Security contributions (53%).

These are some of the findings of a new 24/7 Wall St./Harris Poll survey of 2,364 U.S. adults surveyed online between January 27 and 31, 2011 by Harris Interactive.

Although a majority are familiar overall, older Americans are more likely to be familiar with these recent changes than those younger. Over four in five Americans aged 55 and older say they are familiar with the extension of the unemployment benefits (85%) compared to three in four of those 45-54 (76%), two thirds of those 35-44 (65%) and just half of those 18-34 (51%). Similarly, Americans 55 and older are more likely to be familiar with the legislation to extend the Bush-era tax cuts as well as the changes to Social Security contributions (80% and 70%, respectively) than are those younger. In fact, among 18-34 year olds under half are familiar with extending the Bush era tax cuts (48%) and just over one-third (36%) are familiar with changes to Social Security.

Expectations and Planning

When asked if Americans believe they personally will receive more money this year as a result of the recent changes, one quarter say they think they will (24%), half of Americans think they will not receive any additional money (49%), and 27% are not sure. Older Americans, who are most familiar with the changes, are most likely to say they do not think they will receive any additional money this year as a result. Over six in ten Americans 55 years and older say this (62%) compared to fewer Americans aged 18-34 (44%) and 35-44 (38%) who say the same. Not surprisingly, younger Americans, least familiar with the changes, are more likely than those older to be unsure whether or not they will receive more money as a result – one third of those 18-34 say this (33%), compared to a quarter of those 45-54 (25%) and only one in five of those 55 and older (20%).

Among those Americans who think they will receive additional money in 2011, just two in five say they have thought about how they will use that money (41%), while the majority say they have not thought about it (59%) with a third saying they have not thought about it at all (32%). However, there is an interesting age difference here as well-younger Americans who believe they will receive additional money this year are more likely to have thought about what they will do with the money (52% of those 18-34 have thought about it, as have 46% of those 35-44 compared to 33% of those 45-54 and just 31% of those 55 and older).

Using the Additional Funding

When Americans who believe they will receive additional money in 2011 as a result of recent changes in tax legislation and Social Security policy were asked to think about how likely they are to use the funds in various ways, over half say they will use the money to pay down their debt (52%). Just under half of Americans who think they will receive additional money this year say they will likely use it for everyday spending, such as paying bills and buying groceries (46%), two in five say they will use this money to add to their savings and/or investments (41%) and one in five say they will use the money to make a specific purchase, such as a car, new home, home renovation or piece of jewelry (19%). Fewer Americans say they will use the money to take a vacation (15%) and very small numbers say they will do something else with the money (2%) or that they are not at all sure how they will spend it (4%).

So What?

These legislation and policy changes may aim to put more money in Americans’ pockets, with the intention of luring them back into stores to spend, which would help the overall economy grow. However, it appears that although Americans are aware of the recent changes, many either do not think that they personally will gain from them, or, those who do think they will receive additional money say they have thought little about using it. When pressed it’s apparent that Americans will likely use the money in conservative ways, paying down their debt and buying groceries, rather than making new or elaborate purchases. Time will tell if this reflects a cultural shift in American interests and priorities, or if Americans are still operating in a hunkered-down, crisis-mentality.

TABLE 1A

FAMILIAR WITH SOCIAL SECURITY, TAX AND BENEFITS CHANGES

Recently, legislation was passed to extend the President Bush-era tax cuts, reduce the amount employers and employees contribute to Social Security, and to extend some of the unemployment benefits to Americans who qualify. How familiar, if at all, are you with these changes?

Base: All U.S. adults

Familiar (NET)

Very familiar

Somewhat familiar

Not familiar (NET)

Not very familiar

Not at all familiar

%

%

%

%

%

%

Extending unemployment benefits

69

28

41

31

15

16

Extending the Bush-era tax cuts

65

30

35

35

17

18

Changes to Social Security contributions

53

21

32

47

26

21

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

TABLE 1B

FAMILIAR WITH SOCIAL SECURITY, TAX AND BENEFITS CHANGES

Recently, legislation was passed to extend the President Bush-era tax cuts, reduce the amount employers and employees contribute to Social Security, and to extend some of the unemployment benefits to Americans who qualify. How familiar, if at all, are you with these changes?

Summary of those saying very familiar or somewhat familiar

Base: All U.S. adults

Total

Age

18-34

35-44

45-54

55+

%

%

%

%

%

Extending unemployment benefits

69

51

65

76

85

Extending the Bush-era tax cuts

65

48

63

68

80

Changes to Social Security contributions

53

36

47

56

70

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

TABLE 2

MORE MONEY THIS YEAR

These changes will each put more money in many Americans’ pockets. Do you think you will receive more money in 2011 as a result of any of these changes?

Base: All U.S. adults

Total

Age

Education

18-34

35-44

45-54

55+

H.S. or less

Some college

College grad +

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Yes

24

23

30

28

18

17

20

39

No

49

44

38

47

62

51

55

40

Not at all sure

27

33

32

25

20

32

25

21

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

TABLE 3

USING THE ADDITIONAL MONEY

How much, if at all, have you thought about how you will use the additional money?

Base: All U.S. adults who think they will receive more money in 2011

Total

Age

18-34

35-44

45-54

55+

%

%

%

%

%

Thought about it (NET)

41

52

46

33

31

Thought about it a lot

23

27

33

17

14

Thought about it a little

18

25

13

16

17

Not thought about it (NET)

59

48

54

67

69

Not thought about it very much

27

23

23

31

32

Not thought about it at all

32

25

31

35

37

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

TABLE 4

PLANS TO USE THE ADDITIONAL MONEY

Now, thinking about having more money in 2011, how likely are you to use the additional funds in the following ways? Please select all that apply.

Base: All U.S. adults who think they will receive more money in 2011

Total

Age

18-34

35-44

45-54

55+

%

%

%

%

%

Paying down debt

52

53

56

48

49

Everyday spending (e.g., groceries, bills)

46

47

45

34

56

Adding to savings and/or investments

41

47

41

41

34

Making a specific purchase (e.g. a new car, home, home renovation, piece of jewelry)

19

26

25

13

10

Taking a vacation

15

23

19

8

9

Other

2

1

5

3

Not at all sure

4

4

3

4

3

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding; indicates less than .05%

 

Methodology

This 24/7 Wall St./Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between January 27 and 31, 2011 among 2,364 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Where appropriate, this data were also weighted to reflect the composition of the adult online population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of Harris Interactive.

The Harris Poll® #19, February 11, 2011

By Samantha Braverman, Senior Project Researcher Harris Interactive

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