Students consider security of future


by Susan Parrott

The Oklahoman

College students say they are worried about Social Security and fear they'll never see a return on their investment unless the system is overhauled.

Organizations such as AARP have been outspoken on the issue, but younger Americans also are mobilizing to learn more and influence policy.

At the University of Central Oklahoma, about 20 students who favor privatizing the national retirement system led a march Friday from the Edmond campus to nearby AARP offices.

Students from the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University also participated in the rally, one of dozens organized across the country by the National Center for Policy Analysis.

"Reform doesn't affect the people who are already retired. It affects us," said Nat Harding, an OU student and chairman of the Oklahoma Federation of College Republicans.

"We are going to take the brunt of the problem."

Students say they fear higher taxes, delayed retirement and decreased benefits if the system is not reformed. President Bush has proposed allowing workers to invest a portion of their payroll taxes in personal retirement accounts tied to the stock market.

AARP opposes the personal retirement accounts, but Oklahoma state director Nancy Coffer told the students she welcomes their interest and commitment to saving Social Security.

"Most of us are grandparents, so of course we are thinking of you all," she said. "We are all looking to try to do something to make it work."

High concern

Oklahoma college students also have taken to the Internet to share their concerns about Social Security.

A recent survey by Harvard's Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government found that Social Security ranked second -- behind the war in Iraq -- among issues of student concern.

At OSU, students debate the issue and other political topics on a Web site (www.thesmokefilled- room.com) started by several students.

Co-founder Michael Carnuccio said students are concerned because their generation is at most risk. Without change, the Social Security trust fund is expected to be exhausted around 2041.

"That's when this age group will be retiring," Carnuccio said.

OSU engineering student Josh Bushong, 20, of Weatherford said he expects higher taxes to make up the Social Security shortfall.

On the Web site, he blames the federal government for borrowing from Social Security to pay for other programs.

"I think the government should keep their greedy hands out of this pot of money. I mean, if the money is going low, don't make it worse by basically stealing from those who need it."

Carnuccio said college students may see less risk in the stock market than older Americans.

Ashley Fitzpatrick, an OU public relations major from Oklahoma City, said her generation does not take Social Security for granted.

"Since at this point I doubt I will ever see the money, I don't mind gambling with it. I'm not worried about losing something I may never get anyway."