2012-10-06 – Social Security is a perennial issue on presidential politics but the debate never gets beyond the level of whether the Social Security trust fund will continue to have money to pay benefits. All we seem to care about is extending its solvency as far into the future as possible.
One way to extend solvency that was adopted in the 1980s was to raise the retirement age. It’s a gradual change, but when this methodology was accepted, the retirement age was 65. My Social Security retirement age will be 66, since I was born in 1951. This will continue to increase, little by little. Tweaking the retirement age like this has a big impact of the system’s solvency. So people looking for relatively painless changes always come to the idea that we should accelerate the rise in the Social Security retirement age.
People who do physical work for a living don’t like this idea. Their work is hard on their bodies and they are tired. They also tend to have shorter life expectancies, statistically speaking, than white-collar folk. So what policy-makers (white-collar folk themselves) call “tweaks” are disasters for the blue-collar worker.
When a person retires at age 65 (or 66 now or 67 in a few years), statistics say that he or she can expect to live another 20 years, more or less (more for a she, less for a he – but 20 years is a good ballpark estimate). I have always wondered why we organize our lives this way. We’re unemployed for the first 20 years and the last 20 years of our lives and employed for the 40 years in between.
Is this really the best idea? Might there not be some reason to take extended time off in between?
Women frequently take an extended period to raise a family. Men don’t. One writer’s take on this disparity is that job-inequality could be attacked by requiring men to take paternity leave.
But raising families isn’t the only life need that could be served by extended time off. Time could be used for education to prepare for a career change. Time could be used for community service projects. Time could be used to write a novel or go around the world.
Why wait until your late 60s for this? (And waiting that long might undermine the purpose of, say, preparing for a career change.) The reason we wait is that we need to earn a living.
But what if we redid Social Security in a way that we could “borrow,” say, up to five years from our retirement years to pay for a sabbatical? It would mean we would retire later so we could use the time now.
Think about it. What would you do?