Is it Finally Time to Talk About the Third Rail of American Politics: Social Security?

December 14, 2023

Is it Finally Time to Talk About the Third Rail of American Politics: Social Security?

May 29, 2023

After reading the New York Times guest opinion column titled “For the Good of the Country, Older Americans Should Work More and Take Less,” (https://bit.ly/47IkIv2) I found myself pondering how we have reached a situation where the solution seems evident, yet there is a lack of political willpower to implement it.

First of all, what’s the problem? Eighty percent of American federal spending growth since 1980 has gone to Social Security and health care (much of it for Medicare). In ten years, the Social Security trust fund will be depleted, and we’re living in a period of historically high federal budget deficits. Something’s got to give. Here’s an excerpt from the Op-Ed:

For a typical 65-year-old couple, at least one partner, on average, will likely make it to 90 or beyond. Yet even as life expectancy has risen since 1935, the minimum age to qualify for at least a portion of your Social Security benefits has fallen to 62. That means that many people are now drawing from Social Security for as much as a third of their adult lives, if not more. If people took the same number of retirement years as the average person retiring in 1940, they would stop working at around 77. As such, Social Security is increasingly losing its purpose as old-age insurance, as benefits stretch well into what is becoming late middle age for many.

It’s hard to refute the math. But, it is also important to recognize that we may have to rethink Social Security’s purpose. It was meant to be a way to save for your retirement, not necessarily a wealth distribution vehicle. Maybe it’s time to change that purpose, whether it be by raising the income cap (above $160,200 in annual income, you don’t pay any Social Security tax) or increasing the age when we receive Social Security or, heavens to Betsy, not offering Social Security benefits to the wealthy. When you read the 3,000 comments to the Op-Ed, you notice that this is a topic that creates passionate pushback, and AARP does everything in its power to maintain the status quo.

It may also be time to “smell the longevity and wealth gap coffee” and realize that the longer we wait to solve this, the more painful it will ultimately be. Kudos to French President Emmanuel Macron, who, despite massive public protests, moved the French retirement age from 62 to 64 earlier this year. 

For those of you wondering how you might rethink your later middle age and beyond (especially if you plan or need to work later into life), I highly recommend our popular “Reframing Retirement” workshop at MEA Baja from January 15-20. 

-Chip

Go deeper with a workshop, in person or online.

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