09:30 AM

New Study: More Than Two-Thirds of Americans Don’t Know that Social Security is Protected Against Inflation

Economy, inflation, and pandemic accelerating consumers’ worries about retirement, Nationwide Retirement Institute ® research finds

Columbus, OH – Continued financial repercussions from the pandemic, new concerns over market volatility and high inflation are leading two-thirds of Americans (66%) to worry more now than they did before about their retirement income, according to the Nationwide Retirement Institute’s ninth annual Social Security Consumer Survey. That’s a 10 percentage-point spike from 2021.

Adding to those concerns, most consumers (70%) across generations worry that Social Security will run out of funding in their lifetime. One in three adults (33%) not currently receiving Social Security benefits believe they won’t get a dime of what they’ve earned when they retire.

Despite worries about inflation, the survey also found an important misperception about Social Security: more than two-thirds of Americans don’t realize that Social Security is protected against inflation.

“Every year we find that all generations need more Social Security education, but in this uncertain economic environment it’s more important than ever for people nearing retirement to understand that their Social Security benefits are protected against conditions such as inflation,” said Tina Ambrozy, senior vice president of Strategic Customer Solutions at Nationwide. “There is an immediate opportunity for financial professionals to clear up clients’ misconceptions about Social Security to alleviate their fears and help them stay on track toward their long-term retirement goals.”

Americans have a pessimistic outlook on their financial futures – and they’re changing behaviors accordingly
These worries may be leading many older Americans to tap into their Social Security benefits early. In fact, one in four (26%) Boomers+ who are not currently receiving Social Security plan on filing for Social Security benefits early while continuing to work. Almost two in five (39%) Boomers+ who are not currently receiving Social Security plan on drawing their benefits before their full retirement age.

Survey findings suggest Americans’ concerns about the economy and the pandemic are fueling their fears for the future. Nine in 10 consumers (86%) are concerned about inflation’s impact on the U.S. economy. Older generations are most concerned for the future, with Gen Xers and Boomers+ more likely than Millennials to believe the U.S. economy is getting worse (57%, 67% vs. 36%).

As a result of inflation, Americans across generations are making changes in their daily lifestyles and canceling or postponing life events in the past 12 months because of inflation:

  • More than two-fifths (42%) of Americans are eating out less and one-third (35%) are driving less
  • 15% have cancelled or postponed taking a planned vacation
  • 12% have cancelled or postponed buying a new or used car

Concerns about COVID-19’s adverse impact on retirement security has accelerated since 2021. Today, Americans are more concerned about the pandemic’s impact on their retirement plans than they were last year, with 20% of non-retired Americans pushing back their retirement start date due to COVID-19 this year, compared to just 15% in 2021. Additionally, almost half (47%) of Americans are re-evaluating their retirement plans to assess the financial impact of COVID-19, a nine-percentage point jump from 2021 (38%).

Most Americans are misinformed about Social Security
Survey findings suggest solving Social Security misconceptions may help ease some fears about the future.

  • Key knowledge gaps include:
  • Only 7% correctly identified all the listed factors that determine the maximum Social Security benefits an individual can receive
  • Almost half (49%) of adults don’t know or aren’t sure what percent of their income is or will be replaced in retirement by Social Security, and more than two in five (44%) of those not currently receiving Social Security aren’t sure how much their monthly Social Security payments will be
  • Only 13% of adults correctly guess their full retirement age based on their year of birth
  • Almost half (49%) mistakenly believe if they file early their benefit will automatically go up once they reach their full retirement age

These knowledge gaps reveal an immediate opportunity for financial professionals to help their clients better navigate the Social Security landscape. While only about one in three (36%) surveyed currently work with a financial professional, the good news is more Millennials are turning to financial professionals for help, with 50% reporting they work with one in 2022, compared to just 42% in 2021. Additionally, Millennials and Gen Xers are more likely than Boomers+ to say they prefer to learn more about Social Security from a financial professional (30%, 26% vs. 12%).

“It’s understandable that people are worried about retirement in the face of the current economic environment,” continued Ambrozy. “Individuals at all stages of their careers can benefit from educating themselves about the Social Security system and retirement planning and a trusted financial professional can help with that education.”

Nationwide offers a variety of resources to help. The Nationwide Social Security 360 Analyzer® can help financial professionals assess a client’s goals to better advise on the optimal time to claim Social Security. To learn how to optimize Social Security benefits, visit www.Nationwide.com/SocialSecurity. Financial professionals can visit www.NationwideFinancial.com/SocialSecurity.

This survey was conducted online within the U.S. by The Harris Poll on behalf of Nationwide between April 25 and May 23, 2022, among 1,853 U.S. adults age 26+ (national sample), including 674 Millennials, 576 Gen Xers, 603 Boomers+. Data were statistically weighted as needed to bring them in line with the population of U.S. residents age 26+ from the 2020 Current Population Survey for age by gender, education, race/ethnicity, region, household income, marital status, and household size. Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in our surveys. The sampling precision of Harris online polls is measured by using a Bayesian credible interval. For this study, the sample data is accurate to within + 2.9 percentage points using a 95% confidence level.  This credible interval will be wider among subsets of the surveyed population of interest. 

About The Harris Poll
The Harris Poll is one of the longest running surveys in the U.S. tracking public opinion, motivations and social sentiment since 1963 and is now part of Harris Insights & Analytics, a global consulting and market research firm that delivers social intelligence for transformational times. We work with clients in three primary areas: building 21st century corporate reputation, crafting brand strategy and performance tracking, and earning organic media through public relations research. Our mission is to provide insights and advice to help leaders make the best decisions possible. To learn more, please visit www.theharrispoll.com.

About Nationwide

Nationwide, a Fortune 100 company based in Columbus, Ohio, is one of the largest and strongest diversified insurance and financial services organizations in the United States. Nationwide is rated A+ by both A.M. Best and Standard & Poor’s. An industry leader in driving customer-focused innovation, Nationwide provides a full range of insurance and financial services products including auto, business, homeowners, farm and life insurance; public and private sector retirement plans, annuities, mutual funds and ETFs; excess & surplus, specialty and surety; pet, motorcycle and boat insurance. For more information, visit www.nationwide.com. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

This material is not a recommendation to buy or sell a financial product or to adopt an investment strategy. Investors should discuss their specific situation with their financial professional.

This information is general in nature and is not intended to be tax, legal, accounting or other professional advice. The information provided is based on current laws, which are subject to change at any time, and has not been endorsed by any government agency.

Nationwide and The Harris Poll are separate and non-affiliated companies.

Nationwide Investment Services Corporation (NISC), member FINRA, Columbus, OH. Nationwide Retirement Institute is a division of NISC.

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