Another Reason To Lower, Not Increase, Social Security Retirement Age

California’s unemployment crisis takes many forms. One of the most pernicious is that it disproportionately impacts young workers, 34% of whom are unemployed in California today (in this case, “young” is defined as ages 16 to 19). Many young workers, unable to go to college and needing to support themselves and their families, are having an extremely difficult time finding work. This not only cripples their financial position here in 2010, but has lasting negative impacts on their lifetime careers and earning potential.

One reason they’re having a hard time finding jobs is that they’re competing against workers who shouldn’t be in the workforce at all. A San Francisco Chronicle article today showed that working seniors outnumber working teens. In the article, “seniors” are defined as people age 65 and older:

For the first time on record, senior citizens outnumber teens in the labor force as the Great Recession accentuates trends that make it harder for young people to find jobs and more likely for older workers to delay retirement….

Experts say that over the past decade older workers have tended to hang on to their paychecks longer, owing to sagging stock portfolios and falling home prices.

This shift toward an aging workforce has been disastrous for 16- to 19-year-olds, who face unemployment rates of 25 percent nationwide and 34 percent in California, similar to the Great Depression.

“It’s killing kids,” said Andrew Sum, director of the center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. “We’re tossing our future into the trash bin.”

This is an absurd situation. Ideally, people over age 65 can exit the workforce. Social Security and Medicare exist in part to ensure seniors have their needs taken care of so that they exit the workforce and open up jobs for younger employees who have a greater need for this work.

But because Social Security benefits haven’t kept pace with the cost of living, because Medicare benefits haven’t kept up either, and as other state programs designed to aid seniors are being cut, seniors are finding it necessary to continue working.

This problem would be compounded if Obama’s Cat Food Commission gets its way, and the Social Security retirement age is raised above 65, keeping even more seniors in the workforce. One policy analyst argued for lowering the Social Security retirement age instead:

Heidi Shierholz with the liberal Economic Policy Institute…thinks a better way to improve job prospects for younger workers is to make Medicare and full Social Security benefits available at age 64 for the next two years to coax more older workers into retirement.

I’d say that needs to be a permanent shift. As Dave Johnson has pointed out, workers age 55-65 are getting hit hard by this recession as well, suffering from a pervasive age bias that can hit workers as young as 40. Lowering the retirement age would help some of the older members of this group find work, while opening more places for younger workers.

Ultimately, we need policies that benefit all workers regardless of age. That includes true universal health care, as well as government job creation programs. But the first rule is “do no harm” – and the Cat Food Commission’s likely recommendation to increase the Social Security retirement age would do a world of harm to American workers, especially to the young, whose futures have been systematically robbed from them in order to sustain a failing system for older workers.

16 thoughts on “Another Reason To Lower, Not Increase, Social Security Retirement Age”

  1. Anyone over age 65 needs to be out of the workforce.

    That’s some serious age discrimination.  Who the *&^&% are you to make that decision for someone?

  2. Being fed up with pay cuts and with being disrespected as a worker, I recently retired from working for Gov. Schwarzmuscle (thank goodness!) and started collecting CPers retirement. I had planned to work “a few more years”, but the Gov. and the Legislature kept sending “get out while you can” signals.  

    I also started collecting Social Security @ age 63.5. Together, the CPers and Social Security incomes are OK. It’s nowhere near the levels cited by wingnuts who want to ruin state workers’ retirements, but it allows me and my wife to pay our bills. BTW, I get a reduced amount from Social Security b/c my “full retirement age” is 66.

    When you get Social Security prior to “full retirement age”, you also get to make $14K a year on top of the payments from Social Security Admin. That’s fine for part-time jobs or short-term contracts. I’ve been doing that, and it certainly helps make ends meet. My issue is that the $14K level was set years ago and isn’t adjusted for inflation.

    I’m fine with the notion that old farts like me should make room for young people in the workforce. As long as I can get a decent retirement income and be able to supplement it with part-time income, that’s OK. I just wish that the part-time income piece would be raised to keep pace with inflation. I paid into both my retirement plans and am merely taking out what I earned. But if I need more money, like say for a new car or a vacation, I should be able to go out and earn more on top of Soc Security without penalty, and the level of “earn more” should be realistic vs. the current cost of living.  

  3. It may seem like a fine idea right now to try to get people aged 55 to 65 out of the workforce, because the baby boomers are that age and there are a LOT of them. But in a relatively short number of years, all but the most hardy of them will be retired and there will be a labor shortage. And it won’t be pretty.

    Greece is presently dealing with problems that stem partly from the national practice of retiring at 53. Do we want to change our country’s habit as well and suffer the potential negative consequences of that in the future?

    When the “traditional” retirement age of 65 was established, decades ago, people were living shorter, less healthy lives. Today’s Americans aged 65 and 70 are still playing golf (and running for Governor). Some are still supporting children in college. Many enjoy working and do not want to stop.

    The current recession was not caused by people working longer. We need to fix the root causes, not band-aid it in ways about which we may eventually be sorry.

  4. Rob, I usually like what you post, but this is a decent idea presented in a very bad fashion!

    There is a problem with youth unemployment.  There is also a problem with unemployment among the 55-65 age group, the 45-55 age group, the 35-45 age group, etc…

    The problem is a lack of jobs for all ages in this economy.

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