Should Social Security Be Means Tested?

Supporters say America can’t pay for the rich; critics argue that Social Security should stay universal

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A recent issue of U.S.News & World Report looked at the means-testing debate. Advocates say America cannot afford to subsidize the rich, while critics argue that the system should stay universal. Your thoughts:

Social Security is the same as paying money into any retirement system, except that you are "taxed" based upon your earnings. The more you earn, the more you pay into the system. This is not a matter of "entitlement." It is an earned right that has been paid for. This is also not a welfare payment, based on some means test. Is this system on the "edge of failure"? I doubt it. Is there blame for funding issues maybe on the politicians who tapped into the fund and have not paid it back?

HERB EZRIN Rockville, Md.

I live in a community where almost all of us are retirees and living on savings, pensions, and Social Security. I am alarmed that AARP (to which I belong) continues to fight for the rich to collect what they certainly don't need. Most AARP members are far less than wealthy and very concerned about their Social Security. What we have paid into Social Security during our working years is also a very small amount and quickly paid back to us in just a few years of retirement.

DOROTHY NESS Loudon, Tenn.

Workers at lower income levels already receive a higher percentage of their contributions. Furthermore, higher-income recipients already pay income tax on a portion of their Social Security benefits. Both of these conditions can be considered means testing. One unintended effect of means testing would be to discourage saving by those approaching the Social Security entitlement age. Why save? After retirement, it will result in decreased benefits as well as additional taxes.

FRANK M. SCHEIDT Midland, Mich.

Means testing for Social Security is a bad idea. Don't break an important social contract. Since we are living longer, start raising the retirement age gradually. Punishing success will have negative consequences.

SUE WEINSTOCK Midlothian, Va.

Means testing sends the wrong message. Wealth is not a random event. The majority of rich people are rich because they had the diligence to pursue an education and to develop the skills that command value in the marketplace and/or they were diligent savers. If we start to subsidize people who have "limited means," we are sending the message that saving and education are unimportant.

RICHARD DAVIS Central Coast, Calif.

Make sure that all Social Security recipients who qualify for benefits get back every penny paid into the system. Once this amount is reached, let's means test. Many who receive Social Security have no idea how quickly they reach this point where they are actually past the amount put into the system in their name. Wealthier folks should receive all their benefits promised up to this point also. This would enable Social Security to share more benefits with those less fortunate or to simply build up a larger surplus. The folks who feel "entitled" and those who don't would still have received all their money back, and most would go on receiving their benefits, while a few would get reduced benefits or none at all.

BOB BALWINSKI Midland, Mich.