There is a growing consensus among much of the conservative political elite that there should be major regressive changes to Social Security, like cutting back on benefits and/or raising the retirement age. Endorsing this approach, Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) will soon release legislation that would involve raising the retirement age to 69. A number of high-profile Republicans have endorsed this call to raise the retirement age. Here is a list of just some of these major right-wing figures who are calling for these regressive cuts:
— House Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-OH): “We’re all living a lot longer than anyone ever expected,” Boehner told “the editors of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review,” justifying his call to eventually raise the retirement age to 70. [6/28/10]
— Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA): In an address to the Cobb County Chamber of Commerce, Isakson advocated for raising the retirement age, saying that it would “painlessly” change the program. [1/24/11]
— Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL): The Alabaman senator said it would be a “positive thing” if the retirement age was raised because it would prolong the solvency of the Social Security program. [1/13/11]
— Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-IN): Daniels ridiculously said that we should raise the retirement age because technology is going to enable us all to “live to be more than 100.” [1/5/11]
— Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC): Graham is so supportive of “adjusting the age” where people can get Social Security benefits that he publicly threatened to vote against raising the debt ceiling and risk a government shutdown in order to enact the change. [1/3/11]
— House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA): Cantor sensationally claimed that if “we do not do something to extend [the] retirement age,” the Social Security program will cease to exist. [11/22/10]
— Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK): Coburn said on Morning Joe this morning that the “easy solution” to future funding difficulties in the Social Security program is to raise the retirement age. [1/25/11]
This morning, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) appeared on CNN’s American Morning and echoed Boehner’s comments about how we should raise the retirement age because life expectancy is increasing. Paul explained that he could fix any future shortfalls in Social Security with a “one page long” bill that would raise the Social Security age by three years over 36 years. He justified this by explaining that “we’re all living longer lives” and that we as a “society can handle that”:
PAUL: We do have seperate plans for reforming specifically Social Security. You can fix the Social Security shortfall by raising the age by one month every year. So it will take 36 years to raise the Social Security age three years. I think we as a society can handle that. It fixes most of the problem. The bill can be one page long. We raise the age by one month every year. That’s what we did in the 1980s when Ronald Reagan passed Social Security reform. If you do that, you fix the majority of the problem. We’re all living longer lives, and I think the American people now, more than any other time, are ready to face this problem. With the Baby Boomers retiring we can fix the problem while raising the age gradually.
The problem with Paul’s and Boehner’s justification for raising the retirement age — that we are all living longer, thus we can easily retire later — is that it simply isn’t true. While it’s correct that life expectancy has improved over the years, most of these life expectancy gains have gone exclusively to upper-income Americans who work white-collar jobs that are not physically strenuous. As the Center for Economic Policy and Research (CEPR) puts it, “there has been a sharp rise in inequality in life expectancy by income over the last three decades that mirrors the growth in inequality in income.” CEPR demonstrates this inequality in gains in life expectancy with the following graph:
So raising the retirement age would simply not cost us all equally. The “nearly half of workers over the age of 58 work at jobs that are either physically demanding or involve difficult work conditions” would be forced to work longer and get less years of retirement before they passed away. The American people realize this, and that is why poll after poll shows that the vast majority of them are opposed to raising the retirement age.
Over 100 House Democrats have signed a letter in opposition to regressive cuts to Social Security. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee is inviting citizens to join them in opposition to these cuts. Sign here.