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12/31/2012 10:31 am ET

Millennials Favor Preserving Social Security Over Reducing Deficit, Despite Skepticism: Pew Poll

More millennials favor preserving entitlement programs such as Social Security over reducing the federal budget deficit, but they're much more divided than older adults, according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center.

Young adults aged 18 to 29 favor preserving programs like Social Security and Medicare over cutting the deficit by a 48-41 split. Of adults 65 and older, 66 percent say preserving entitlements is more important, while just 21 percent would rather reduce the deficit.

On a separate polling question, 60 percent of young adults under age 30 agreed the "government has the responsibility to care for those who need assistance," slightly higher than the rate for older Americans, according to Pew. The polling results come from a Nov. 28 to Dec. 5 survey among a nationally representative sample of 2,511 adults.

The Social Security's Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance Trust Funds are expected to become exhausted between 2036 and 2041, at which point tax revenues would be sufficient to pay only about three-quarters of their schedule benefits. Congressional Republicans have insisted reforms for Social Security be addressed during the "fiscal cliff" talks, and have proposed fixes including raising the retirement age and changing how inflation is calculated.

As the Pew Research Center notes, the recent findings run a bit counter to both millennial and older generations' overall views on the size of government. Although 58 percent of older adults want the government to do less, according to the National Exit Poll, they don't want their entitlement programs cut. By contrast, even though young adults are almost split on cutting entitlements as opposed to deficit reduction, the same poll shows 59 percent of them believe the "government should do more to solve problems."

Yet even though millennials favor a more activist government and preserving entitlement programs, they worry about those programs' long-term financial solvency. A slight majority of young adults -- 52 percent -- believe keeping the benefits of Social Security and Medicare at their current levels will place "too much of a financial burden on younger generations," compared with just 35 percent of adults ages 65 and older who believe so. In addition, 54 percent of millennials say it's unlikely there will be enough money to maintain those programs in the future if current benefit levels are maintained.

Two out of three young adults support raising payroll taxes on high-income earners -- virtually identical to the portion of all other age groups -- to help financially support Social Security. A majority also support reducing Social Security benefits for high-income seniors, the Pew Research Center found.

However, only one-third of young adults favor raising the eligibility age for Social Security, compared with 49 percent of adults over age 65 who support that idea.

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