Whatever happened to retiring?
A few years ago, the sight of a senior citizen greeting shoppers as they entered Wal-Mart was pretty shocking. How could a senior citizen be working at minimum wage years after retirement? But thanks to the recession and a global race to the bottom, it’s becoming common to see our grandparents working. Working people are making do with less, dipping into their savings to pay this month’s rent, pinching pennies off their nest eggs to pay their bills today.
At a time when working people need security more than ever, the last thing we should consider is cutting retirement benefits by raising the retirement age — or as some suggest, even eliminating Social Security.
Social Security is key to what’s left of retirement security in America — it allows most of us the peace of mind to know we can finish our lives in dignity. Already the age at which Americans are eligible for full benefits under Social Security is 67, up from 65, for those born in 1960 or later. If House minority leader John Boehner and dozens of other conservative members of Congress have their way, the retirement age would increase to 70.
Research shows that the increase from 65 to 67 amounts to about a 13 percent cut in benefits for the average senior over the course of his or her expected retirement. Raising the retirement age to 70 would translate into another 19 percent cut in benefits, chopping benefits by a total of around 30 percent.
Let’s not forget that an age increase is even more of a hardship for workers in physically demanding jobs and for older workers who may no longer be able to find work due to age discrimination.
However you look at it, these are harsh cuts, with drastic repercussions for Americans of all ages. Each Social Security check that’s cashed is funneled back into our community to pay for basic needs and services, which stabilizes the local economy.
It isn’t necessary to hurt our seniors or our communities with benefit cuts to keep Social Security running. Everyone agrees Social Security can pay full benefits for at least the next 35 years. And with relatively modest adjustments — not including benefit cuts — Social Security can be made solvent for the next 75 years. If Social Security detractors want to tackle a real problem, they should take on the larger, and looming, retirement security crisis crashing down on the heads of our seniors and future generations.
And by addressing the larger problem of retirement security as our population ages, we can spare future generations of workers from having to ask, “Whatever happened to retiring?” CV
Richard L. Trumka is president of the 12-million member AFL-CIO, which represents firefighters and teachers, nurses and electricians, scientists and steel workers.
We’ll never settle on the right role for government
An election always seems like its concerns were ripped from that day’s news. But this year reminds us that the politics of the day can also be rooted in arguments of centuries’ standing. The current debate over the proper size and scope of government goes back to our founding.
Consider the public response to disaster — the Gulf oil spill, Hurricane Katrina, the Great Recession. Ordinarily leery of government overreach, Americans turn to government at times of crisis and want it to respond quickly, efficiently and effectively. When it can’t, people grow disillusioned, even angry.
In many ways, arguments about government’s size and reach are really arguments about its effectiveness. Most Americans are not rigid ideologues insisting uniformly on more government or less government. Rather they are pragmatic, calling for a smarter, more effective government. And as long as they keep expecting it to respond to their needs and beliefs, the debate over how it can best do so will — and should — continue. We will never settle on the right role for government. CV
Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years and offers occasional commentaries for Cityview.