Raising the Retirement Age Is Cutting Benefits by the Back Door


Everybody in Washington is obsessed with the deficit. It’s a serious issue with far reaching implications, to be sure. One of the ideas being batted about is that raising the retirement age will save on “entitlement costs” and decrease our national debts in an equitable and acceptable way. Many feminist economists, social scientists, and women’s advocates disagree. Passionately! Here are a few of their main arguments as presented today at a briefing sponsored by the Older Women’s Economic Security Task Force (OWES) of the National Council of Women’s Organizations. (NCWO)*

Social Security is prohibited from borrowing money and therefore can’t get into debt. It has nothing to do with the current budget shortfalls, which are attributable to unfunded wars, lower income tax revenue, and a poorly regulated financial sector. In fact, it is the most successful and efficient program of the federal government. Social Security offers a safety net to millions of children who lose parental income due to death or disability, surviving spouses of deceased workers, as well as retirees. If no changes are made, beneficiaries will receive full benefits for at least the next 30 years. A trust fund was established decades ago to prepare for the aging baby boomer generation, and their needs were foreseen and provided for. So, the looming “crisis” we’ve been warned about is actually much smaller and more easily resolved it sounds.

Yes, it is true that people are living longer. We’ve already accounted for that by increasing the age for full retirement benefits from 65 to 67, a process that was decided upon years ago and is underway right now. The effect of this change on employment rates, the solvency of Social Security, and the poverty levels of older Americans is not yet known. Also, simply raising the age at which you can receive benefits doesn’t mean necessarily that people will continue working. It’s the fortunate few who can decide when to retire – millions of workers have it decided for them by being laid off, facing age discrimination in the workplace, having to respond to their own medical emergency or disability, or needing to care for an ill or elderly family member. For these people, there is no control over when earned income stops. As the vast majority of Americans have saved a mere pittance for later life, they will simply not have enough money to wait out the months and years that must go by before becoming eligible for Social Security benefits.

Finally, increases in longevity are not enjoyed by everyone. Having more healthy and productive years is linked to increases in education and income. In other words, white men are living longer, but longevity has stayed pretty much the same for everyone else. Women are performing much more compensated work now and paying significant amounts in Social Security taxes. Even so, they earn less due to wage discrimination, don’t have the same access to pension programs, and work fewer years over their lifetime because they do more of the family carework than men. That’s why they are far more likely to be poor in old age than men. Raising the retirement age simply cuts the amount of time they can collect benefits, even though women now work for money, and paying into the system, more than ever before.

So – is there a better way to generate the extra revenue Social Security will need decades in the future, when we, and then our children, hit our prime at 67? I have an idea – but I would really like to hear yours first. Put on your policy wonk hat and tell me the easiest and fairest way to keep the single best federal program doin’ its thang for another 70 years in the “Comments” section below.

‘Til next time,
Your (Wo)man in Washington

* The National Association of Mothers’ Centers, MOTHERS’ sponsoring non-profit organization, is a proud member of NCWO and Your (Wo)man in Washington is on the OWES Task Force.


  • Kaylie

    I don't have any ideas about how to fix it, but I wish SAHMs could earn Social Security while they take care of their children–they do in other countries. Why not here?