Last week, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, the co-chairs of President Obama’s deficit reduction commission, released a report outlining their recommendations for reducing the federal budget deficit. One of their most contentious proposals is to gradually raise the retirement age to 69, a move the co-chairs claim is meant to maintain the system’s solvency.
This morning, Simpson and Bowles appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe to discuss their proposals. At one point, Simpson explained his view that balancing the budget would require going “to where the meat is. And the meat is health care, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security.” Host Joe Scarborough then complained that while AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka attacked the proposals for cutting Social Security, Scarborough said he doesn’t think the co-chairs went far enough (co-host Mika Brzezinski agreed). Bowles then defended their proposal, saying, “What we’ve done is make Social Security solvent for the next 75 years. As you all know, Social Security runs out of money in 2037. We’re not making it up. That’s the law”:
SIMPSON: You’ve gotta go where the meat is. And the meat is health care, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. Not balancing the books on the backs of poor old staggering seniors to make the damn thing solvent for 75 years.
SCARBOROUGH: We were stunned, Erskine, by some of the things that were said after the commission report came out, saying, “Seniors are going to be thrown out on the street!” I looked at the numbers to be really honest with you, and I didn’t think you moved fast enough on Social Security and Medicare. We calculated that I guess, it was Trumka, who I like very much, Trumka said that this throws old people out. My two year old son Jack will get Social Security at 69. People in their 20’s and 30’s will be just fine.
BRZEZINSKI: In fact, I think you could’ve gone further.
SIMPSON: I know Rich very well. He’s a good egg. He has to say for what he has to say for his membership. But he knows I’m right.
BOWLES: What we’ve done is make Social Security solvent for the next 75 years. As you all know, Social Security runs out of money in 2037. We’re not making it up. That’s the law.
Social Security is currently projected to be fully solvent until the year 2037. After that, it is expected to be able to pay out 75 percent of benefits until 2084, which basically equals full benefits, once inflation is accounted for. There is no threat of the program running out of money any time soon — certainly not in 2037. That does not mean that there aren’t positive and progressive changes that could possibly be made to the system.
However, the hike in retirement age that the MSNBC co-hosts and deficit commission co-chairmen are praising would be a very punitive way to ensure further solvency. As a Government Accountability Office report recently obtained by the AP found, “Raising the retirement age for Social Security would disproportionately hurt low-income workers and minorities, and increase disability claims by older people unable to work.”
Scaborough may not be entirely wrong to shrug off the possibility of his son Jack retiring at 69, if his son ends up being in the same socioeconomic class as him. Almost all of the gains in life expectancy over the past few decades have been among upper income earners. If current trends continue, middle and lower class Americans will see very little gain in life expectancy by the time the co-chairs plan to hike the retirement age. And “nearly half of workers over the age of 58 [today] work at jobs that are either physically demanding or involve difficult work conditions,” meaning that if those trends continue, blue-collar workers will be hurt particularly hard by raising the retirement age.
Unfortunately, most Americans are not highly-paid TV hosts like Brzezinski and Scarborough.