I know that sounds absurd, but it’s not if you understand the history of Social Security, and more importantly, the social stigmas that the current age of 62 creates.
A quick history lesson reveals that when Social Security was enacted in 1935, very few people were actually supposed to live long enough to receive it. At the time, average life expectancy was only 61.8 years.
What’s interesting is the age for receiving benefits was established based on a combination of medical opinions and government research.
The statistician, Frederick Hoffman, asserted that the age of productivity encompassed the years between 15 and 65. All other years were demarcated as unproductive.
Isacc Rubinow, a pioneer of the American Social Security movement, proclaimed that 65 should be regarded as old since it is the dawn of disease and decline.
When the U.S. federal government argued before the Supreme Court that railroad workers should “enjoy the closing days of their lives with peace of mind and physical comfort” it asserted, “it is a commonplace fact that physical ability, mental alertness and cooperativeness tend to fail after man is 65.” (Source: Certified Professional Retirement Coach Coursebook and Curriculum)
Let’s not forget that back then the average work week was not only 55 hours, but it was much more physically demanding than most work today.
The program was designed to get old, deteriorating people out of the workplace, and give them a humane way to lived out their last few years in a rocking chair on the porch. Not exactly the romantic picture of how retirement is perceived today, but these are the hard truths for which the program was established.
This is important because our current system continues to portray people ages 62-65 as old and less capable. It’s the foundation for ageism and one of the key reasons that it is harder to find work after age 50. In fact, a 2014 U.S. government workers survey noted that people age 50 or older are likely to be unemployed for 5.8 weeks longer than someone between the ages of 30 and 49, and 10.6 weeks longer than people between the ages of 20 and 29.
Now let’s apply some simple math to the social security equation. Today, average life expectancy has grown by about 30% since 1935. Therefore, in order to keep pace with the original plan and design of the program we would have to adjust the age in which early benefits were available for by 18.6 years and another 19.8 years for full benefits. That translates into age 80 and 86 respectively.
As you might expect, adjusting the benefit ages by this amount would save enormous amounts of money and we will never have to worry about it going bankrupt. But I don’t want you to focus on the financial implications, but rather the social ones.
If we move the social stigma of old age benefits, or the time in which we label people as old and less capable to age 80, how would you feel about someone who is age 55 or 60? These people are suddenly middle age workers, with 20 or more years before they are likely to retire. The group suddenly becomes much more employable and are even well positioned to go back to school, start a business, or change careers.
This is an important conversation because Democrats are pushing for changes to Social Security in a bill that is being re-introduced called the Social Security 2100 Act. They have some nice updated features in there, but everything is financial. It requires higher taxes and doesn’t address the fact that many people want to and will need to work past the current benefit ages.
But because people who are aged 62-65 are labeled as old and near the end, they can’t get the jobs they want or need. And in cases where people can and do work past their normal retirement age, they’re double dipping, collecting benefits while enjoying full time work, which puts a strain on the system.
I realize I’m not going to receive a standing ovation or get asked to run for congress with an opinion like this, but if people think ageism is an issue and understand that working longer does provide certain benefits, then our government policies need to reflect social factors and not just the dollars and cents.