Now there have been calls to increase the retirement age even more. To 68, or even 70. House Majority Leader John Boehner has said, "We're all living a lot longer than anyone ever expected, and raising the retirement age to 70 is a step that needs to be taken."
It's not just conservative Republicans. President Obama's deficit reduction commission also called for raising the Social Security age. They are proposing 69. Other experts have chimed in, including former deputy commissioner of the Social Security Administration Andrew Biggs. The American Academy of Actuaries has also come out in favor of extending the retirement age.
I can see the logic of the proposal. After all, we are on average living longer than the retirees of the 1930s, when the retirement age was set at 65. In 1940, the average 65-year-old person lived 12 more years. Today, the average 65-year-old retiree can expect to live another 18 years. That's a big increase -- 50 percent. Social Security was meant to provide a safety net to elderly people for the last few years of their lives. It was never meant to finance a retirement lasting 20 or 30 years.
Here's the problem: It works in theory, but not in real life.
In real life, many people find it difficult to work past the age of 60, let alone 65. If you've got a physically demanding job, it can get pretty rough. Do you think it's a good idea for 65 year olds to be climbing ladders or lifting heavy construction materials?
What about office workers? You'd think it's not physically demanding. But I was an office worker, and by the time I retired I had bulging discs in my neck from sitting behind a desk for 30-some years, and carpal tunnel syndrome from working a keyboard for 30 years.
Even some professionals. Do you want a 70-year-old surgeon with shaky hands operating on your brain? Or even a 70-year-old plumber trying to bend and twist his way under your kitchen sink so he can fix a leak?
|Pres. Obama with Commissioners Bowles & Simpson|
Employers are not supposed to discriminate on the basis of age. But you know damn well they do -- they just hire a few lawyers to muddle the situation.
You can find plenty of retirement advice suggesting to Baby Boomers that they work a few extra years in order to make up for any lack of savings. "Stop Saving So Much for Retirement" suggests you spend more money on cruises and other indulgences -- then, to make up for it, just work until age 70 instead of retiring at 62.
That's fine if you happen to have a job that doesn't tax you either physically or emotionally. And if you work for a company that's happy to have you stick around until you're 70. But who has that option? Maybe lawyers and accountants; certain corporate managers and government employees; people who work for a family business. But it's not an option for most of us.
A report from federal government auditors points out that raising the retirement age would "create a financial hardship for those who cannot continue to work because of poor health or demanding workplace conditions." Adds David Certner of the AARP, "Some people just can't continue to work beyond age 62 for either health reasons or they're just not able to find jobs. Just because we tell people they should work longer doesn't mean there are employers willing to hire people."
Under current conditions, the people who find it convenient to work longer are the very people who have better, higher paying jobs. This means extending the retirement age will make the rich richer, and the poor poorer. I don't think we need more of that in this economy.
If we're going to extend the retirement age -- and I agree there's a legitimate argument to do that -- then we have to change our entire business culture. Corporations will have to stop forcing out workers in their 50s. Employers will have to offer legitimate retraining. More job sharing. More part-time work. More workplace flexibility. And perhaps most of all, a change in attitudes -- that it's okay to slow down, take less pay, perform an easier job, and find value in older workers' skills, perspective and experience.
Until then, let's keep the retirement age at 67.