Bush proposal elicits worry, relief

Some see threat to retirement, others like investment option

Maryland Reacts

State Of The Union

February 03, 2005|By Lynn Anderson and Justin Fenton | Lynn Anderson and Justin Fenton,SUN STAFF

Marylanders expressed mixed opinions - from skepticism and uneasiness to optimistic support - last night to President Bush's plan to reform Social Security, including a proposal to allow younger workers to invest some of their retirement benefits in the stock market.

"I'm very nervous, very nervous," said Matt Kopp, a 21-year-old American studies student at the University of Maryland, College Park. "We have a chance to make a lot of money, but at the same time lose a lot of money. Unlike Social Security, it's up and down."

Older residents, many within a few years of retirement and counting on income from Social Security, voiced relief that the president's proposed reforms wouldn't affect them. Bush said last night in his State of the Union address that those 55 years of age and older would be exempt.

"It sounded really good," said J. Thomas Kerr, 61, of North Baltimore's Medfield neighborhood. "I'm not worried about getting mine, but I am worried about my children. I like it that they will be able to put something in and watch it grow."

Martha Wood, 55, of Abingdon in Harford County, said that while she supports Bush's proposal, she worries about young people who may be forced to make difficult financial decisions knowing that Social Security might not be there for them.

"I know when my husband and I were married in 1970, we always tried to save, but it is hard when you are young and getting started," she said. "It is even harder now. It will put an extra burden on some."

Republican officials said yesterday before the president's speech that the reduction in federal benefits would be larger for those who establish personal accounts than for people who do not, on the assumption that the investment income would more than make up the difference.

Bush urged Congress to approve legislation that would place Social Security on a permanently stable financial foundation, at the same time giving younger workers the choice of diverting a portion of their payroll taxes into personal accounts. Administration officials have talked of cutting government benefits to younger workers in the range of 40 percent.

Democrats have said that the change would add trillions of dollars to the national debt while privatizing a program that has kept millions of older people out of poverty since Social Security was created in 1935.

Some Maryland residents said they need more information about the president's Social Security reform proposal before buying into his plan.

"I think there has to be a way to fix it and [reform] is worth considering," said Thomas Sollers, 50, a graphic artist from Hampstead in Carroll County. "The personal accounts idea is worth examining. But I still want more details. The president's delivery was somewhat vague."

Some said the president and his speech writers were ambiguous for a reason.

"He was crafty," said Tiffany Thompson, 23, a graduate student in rhetoric at College Park. "He structured it to make it sound like a good idea," she said, adding that many young people "will be skeptical."

Kathy Coster, 52, of Parkville in Baltimore County, said she isn't convinced the president knows what he's talking about.

"We have the most debt that we have ever had as a nation, so I'm not sure I would trust his plan at this point," she said. "When he talked about the personal accounts, he said `we' will chose safe funds. Who's `we?' "

Earlier in the day, some people said they wouldn't watch the address. Some said they go to bed early and would be asleep when it aired. Others said they had scheduling conflicts

Dr. Andrew Lazris, 40, of Columbia in Howard County, said after hearing the president's speech that he was going to give his three children - ages 6, 10 and 12 - some sound retirement advice.

"Get a good job," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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