Bionic gramps: some people think we're going to live forever

Bionic Gramps

by digby

I guess some people think that there's no limit to human life expectancy. Either that or bionics are just around the corner and we'll all be rebuilt as cyborgs or something:

A week after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) declared that cutting Social Security is off the table, a leading Republican senator proposed increasing the Social Security retirement age "every several years."

Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the top Republican on the banking committee and a senior member of the appropriations committee, told a breakfast gathering held by the Institute for Education on Tuesday to expect a fight -- rather than bipartisan agreement -- over the budget.

Shelby said he considers deficit reduction to be the top issue on the congressional agenda.

"We're on the road to financial destruction," he warned. "Can we get our hand around this problem without bringing everything to the table? No."

And Shelby indicated that entitlements are very much on his budget-cutting agenda. He mocked the recommendation of President Barack Obama's deficit commission, which he said would raise the Social Security retirement age in 2025 (actually, not until 2027).

"America will be burned by then -- and a lot of us will be dead," he said.

His preferred solution is to "up the age every several years," he said -- the net effect of which would be tantamount to one benefit cut after another.

I'm sure Shelby doesn't care about reality, and neither do most politicians who are dying to put social security on the chopping block so they can preen about "sacrifice" while planning their own cushy retirements on the public dime, but anyone who cares to know the truth, should read the CEPR report on life expectancy and social security, which is nicely synthesized here:

The liberal Center For Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) has reported [pdf], with good documentation, that increasing the retirement age will not only be difficult for many who work in physically demanding jobs, but it would shorten the retirements and lives of many of those workers.

Using data based on the census and the Occupational Information Network, the CEPR said that "in 2009, 6.5 million workers age 58 and older had physically demanding jobs, while 5 million workers age 58 and older were employed in difficult jobs” that were physically demanding or with difficult working conditions.

In addition, many of the most physically demanding or difficult jobs were also poorly paid and most were held by Latino workers (54 percent), blacks (53 percent), Asian Americans (50 percent) and whites (43 percent).

Even higher percentages of Latinos and blacks in the most demanding jobs were much older than 58 and would be especially hurt economically by a raise in the retirement age.

The survey found that

"raising the retirement age is particularly concerning for near-retirement age workers with physically demanding jobs. Despite the fact that the retirement age increase is supposed to encourage workers to work longer, many workers would be physically unable to extend their work lives and they would most likely be left with no choice but to receive reduced benefits."

Or, after a life of hard work and paying taxes, they would go on welfare.

But that would not be the worst of it for CEPR found, in a companion survey, that many retirees from difficult jobs don't live long enough to collect benefits. Those who, like Ryan, intend to support raising the retirement age argue that life expectancy has increased and therefore the retirement age should likewise be increased.

Perhaps it doesn't occur to Ryan and his allies that Medicare and Social Security are largely responsible for increased longevity (which still lags behind other nations). Perhaps this will be the Republicans' “death panels.”

As CEPR reported,

"The average length of retirement has increased consistently since the program (Social Security) was started in 1937. However, the increase in the normal retirement age from 65 to 67 that is being phased in...largely offsets the increase in life expectancy. As a result, workers who work long enough to collect their full benefits will see little gain in the expected length of their retirement."

Graphs and charts in CEPR's paper illustrate the growing income inequality and life expectancy between minorities in difficult jobs and the rest of workers, especially those in white collar jobs that are less demanding.

"If the recent trend of growing inequality in life expectancy continues through the next three decades, these workers in the bottom half of the wage distribution can anticipate substantial reductions in the expected length of retirement, if the normal retirement age is increased...

A male worker born in 1973 retiring at age 70 can expect to live a full year less than the expected length of retirement for a worker born in 1912."

The study's conclusion:

"If the normal retirement age is increased to 70 over the next 25 years, as advocated by many policymakers, then the rise in the retirement age will continue to offset most of the increase in life expectancy....The expected years of retirement (meaning the years until death) will be less for the 1973 birth cohort than it was for the 1912 birth cohort."

For all the propaganda that's out there about how people usually died before they were 65 when social security was first hatched, so nobody ever anticipated that they would have to support all these geezers in the system (completely untrue, by the way)the truth is that the 1983 deal to raise the retirement age already took care of the rising life expectancy. Now they are just trying to cut away at the system so that people born in the 1970s live their longer lives in penury.

But as Shelby says, we'll all be dead. So they are calling for "sacrifice" among the younger generation --- many of whom have been led to believe the system will pay them nothing so they think they have nothing to lose. Sadly, it's not true.