If We Raise The Retirement Age, Millions More Will Die Without Retiring

by Bill Egnor,
August 10, 2010 – 6:41am

Dad, Uncle Otho, Uncle Kenny, all died before they were 70, Mom and my mother-in-law are both likely to die before that age as well. They all died relatively young for various reasons, but none of them lived to see the retirement age radical Republicans like Minority Leader John Boehner and his economic hit man Rep. Mike Pence want to make the new threshold for Social Security benefits. The specious argument that the tanned man and the ghost of budgets passed make is that if we don’t do something about Social Security spending the program will not be able to pay the (meager) benefits that are promised. It has exactly no basis in fact, like most radical Republican policy ideas it is not designed to address a problem but to advance a political agenda, this time to dismantle a program that has been loved by the public to the long term credit of the Democrats.

Originally posted at Squarestate.net

The bland and faux tanned Minority Leader thinks that the issue is that people are living longer and so we have to pay Social Security benefits for a longer period of time, thus making it too expensive. So what is the simple (minded) solution? Raise the age that people can stop working. This way there is less time between our elderly citizens leaving the workforce and dying. That will keep the costs down.

Leaving aside the fact that there is enough money to pay for the Social Security of our citizens because the workers of today pay into the system that pays for the benefits of the retired, this is an incredibly bad idea. It is true that life expectancy has increased in the 65 years since the program was put into place, with both men and women increasing their life expectancy by about 15 years.

The thing about life expectancy is that it is an average number and that average can be skewed upward by a few outliers who live an extremely long time. Using an average number like life expectancy to determine the appropriate age to retire means that millions of citizens will never reach that age and qualify for Social Security. Another issue is the nature of work.

While it might be achievable for someone who works in an office to work all through their 60’s not every job or even trade is sitting at a computer. Many of the jobs that allow non-college graduates to earn a good living and raise a family are physically demanding. Working in a hot factory, climbing electrical poles, driving buses, cleaning hotel rooms are all jobs that someone in their 60’s are not going to be as able to do. Take a look around at the people you know in their mid or late 60’s. They may be in great health but that does not mean most of them can spend the day in physically demanding labor, day after day after day.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t let anyone over 60 on a high ladder if I can possibly help it. It is not that they are more likely to fall (though vertigo becomes more of a problem as we age) but that the consequences of such a fall are far more serious to them than someone in their 20’s or 40’s. Living longer does not automatically mean that you have an extended ability to do the same kind of work as you did in the prime of your life. In fact there is very little evidence that we are significantly stronger as a people in our 60’s and 70’s and beyond than previous generations. It is the medicines and medical technology that we have today which is extending our lives, not some change in the way our bodies age. Add this to the issue that people with more physically demanding jobs are the ones most likely to have small injuries that add up over time and you can see how raising the eligibility age for Social Security is a really bad idea.

Yes, there is always going to be a segment of the population which will be strong and fit all through their 60’s. They have existed in our populations for a long time, but they are not the norm, they are at the far right of the normal distribution. The vast majority of people are going to become more and more fragile with age. Sure we can replace hips and knees, but while that makes people more mobile it does not make them the same as when they were younger.

We should also never lose sight of exactly why the radical Republicans want to monkey with Social Security in the first place. They want to be able to reduce the amount of taxes paid to by citizens, no matter what that money pays for. They have been unmasked in terms of their claim of being the party of fiscal responsibility. No matter what they say, they are not really interested in doing the things it takes to keep the United States financially sound. If they were they would be talking about raising taxes, the way their Saint Ronald Regan did.

Dad, Uncle Otho, Uncle Kenny they never got to 70 years old. Dad was an attorney, Otho was a factory worker, Kenny was an electrician. None of them would have received any Social Security benefits if the retirement age was 70 years old. How many millions of other Americans will share the same fate if the radical Republicans get their way? Being able to survive without working is hard enough. Our ending of pensions in favor of 401K stock based retirement accounts has been shown to be dangerous. Much of the 14 trillion dollars of wealth that was wiped out in our economic downturn was the retirement accounts working people. If they were forced to work until they were 70 before they could get any help from the government, how much worse would things be?

As a whole we are the wealthiest nation in the history of nations. We have a major problem in how that wealth is concentrated in the top five percent of the nation. Still there is no reason why we should have our senior citizens working into their late 60
‘s and beyond. It is one thing if it is a choice it is quite another if it is a requirement. If you have worked for 40 years you should not have to keep scrambling for another 10 years to receive benefits you paid into for that entire time. Right now only 5% of those above 65 are in the workforce. If the radical Republicans have their way that number will soar. This is an issue that we should be hitting them on everyday of the week and twice on Sunday’s. The party of the idle rich wants to be sure that the workers stay in the harness as long as possible. They don’t care that they are sentencing people to possibly shorter and definitely less healthy elder years. All that matters to them is that the top 2% of earners don’t have to pay a few more percent on earnings above $250,000.

This is the future that their brand of fiscal responsibility leads to. Cuts in the very programs that have allowed our senior citizens to live those longer lives, in their homes and with a level of independence. I know that for those of us who are in the middle of our lives it is hard to imagine what it will be like when we are in our 60’s or 70’s but if we don’t start now the faux fiscal discipline of the radical Republicans will make that time much harder and darker for us all.

The floor is yours.

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