Posted on 13 September 2010
By Mark Miller
“Reform” advocates concerned about the federal deficit want to increase Social Security’s full retirement age. That might work out for knowledge workers, but it’s a tough proposition for people who do physical labor. And for everyone involved, a higher retirement age amounts to a significant cut in lifetime benefits.
The New York Times offers an excellent feature story today detailing the implications of a higher retirement age for blue collar workers, who will have a great deal of trouble extending their working lives to age 70:
Discussion has focused mostly on the older workers who hold relatively undemanding jobs at desks and computers that can be done at age 69 or beyond. But hard labor is not a thing of the past for older workers, who are on the whole less educated than younger ones.
A new analysis by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that one in three workers over age 58 does a physically demanding job like Mr. Hartley’s – including hammering nails, bending under sinks, lifting baggage – that can be radically different at age 69 than at age 62. Still others work under difficult conditions, like exposure to heat or cold, exposure to contaminants or weather, cramped workplaces or standing for long stretches.
In all, the researchers found that 45 percent of older workers, or 8.5 million, held such difficult jobs. For janitors, nurses’ aides, plumbers, cashiers, waiters, cooks, carpenters, maintenance workers and others, raising the retirement age may mean squeezing more out of a declining body.
Here’s my take: While Social Security will require some modest adjustments to assure its long-term financial health, there is no imminent solvency crisis, as claimed by the deficit hawks. Moreover, we should not be contemplating cuts in Social Security at a time when all the other pillars of retirement security have eroded to the point where many Americans won’t be able to meet basic expenses in retirement. Instead, new revenue sources should be created to address Social Security’s modest long-range solvency problem. And, rather than cut benefits, we should look at ways to enhance Social Security benefits for those who will need them most.