By Chris Barts
Human lives are pretty linear things. We are born, we grow up, we grow old, we die. What happens before and after that brief sequence is an enigma wars have been fought over, and one I won't presume to explore in a newspaper column. The issue I have in mind for this week's column is one of definitions, namely how to define when someone is truly old enough to receive Social Security, retirement benefits, pensions, and all the other comforts of those on the way out.
We as a species are living longer, fuller lives. We do at 60 today what a 40-year-old of a few generations ago would not even contemplate. We can conceivably have four generations of a family around a single crowded table to share a meal, from the 90-year-old-great-grandparents to the 15-year-old children of the third generation. But even now, the average age is seventy, slightly higher for females than males. That means plenty of people around 80, and a few nearing the century mark. All of them drawing Social Security since age 65.
And that's one of the problems. Perhaps not yet, but very soon. The 80-year-old, born 1920, was fifteen when Social Security laws were passed. He worked until he was sixty-five, and then retired. His 65th birthday was in 1985, meaning he's been drawing benefits for fifteen years. The 90-year-olds have been drawing since 1975, or for 25 years. All of that time is expensive, especially since the Social Security System was made when few were expected to see 65, and it was an event if you made the far side of 70.
All of this expense is compounded by the fact that the Social Security taxes these people paid in are far less than the benefit's they've taken out. That means that the taxpayer has been supporting a huge system that drains funds it will never pay back, especially with the Baby Boomers, born in the Postwar Years of the late 1940s and 1950s, growing older by the year. This group will hit 65 en masse between 2010 and 2020, and will have life spans of just under a century virtually guaranteed by advanced medical technologies. Where will the money for all that Social Security come from? The current generations of High School students, and by the looks of it that group won't have Social Security to look forward to, after that kind of drain.
The solution to this problem is to raise the minimum retirement age. Sixty-five worked well until people began to live to 65 and longer in larger groups. What's more, the average job can be performed at a much older age than before, now that machines are doing the most laborious and dangerous tasks. Work also gives people some kind of goal in life, some reason to wake up in the morning. This reduces the incidence of depression, leading to longer, happier lives.
Raising the age now may seem severe, especially if you are on the cusp of 65. But how severe is it to consign the future taxpayers to paying for a huge, antiquated system that will never serve them if it isn't fixed? The future of this country deserves better.