Legislative Update: Retirement Age

Legislative Update: Retirement Age

By Mike Watson, TSCL Legislative Assistant,

One of the options to address Social Security that appears to have widespread support is increasing the Social Security retirement age.   Raising the age at which people would be eligible for unreduced Social Security benefits has been discussed by policy “wonks” for years, but has largely remained out of the discussion with the general public.  However, this summer two high-ranking Members of Congress spotlighted the topic in a rare public airing that was discussed in the media and the general public.  Within a week of each other, Rep. John Boehner (OH-8), the House Minority Leader, and Rep. Steny Hoyer (MD-5), the House Majority Leader, both advocated raising the Social Security retirement age.

For years, the age at which an individual could receive full, unreduced Social Security benefits was 65.  Since the passage of the 1983 amendments to the Social Security Act, the age has increased very gradually.  The current full retirement age is 66 and it is slowly rising to 67 for people born after 1959.  Benefits can be claimed as early as 62; however, doing so will result in a reduced benefit.  For example, if someone was born in 1945 and claimed benefits at 62, their benefits were reduced by 25%.  If someone who is born after 1959 collects benefits at 62, their benefits will be reduced by 30%.  Some economists have proposed increasing the early retirement age, currently age 62, as well as the full retirement age.

It is indisputable that Americans are, on average, living longer lives.  According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, someone who turned 65 in 1950 had, on average, 13.9 more years to live, while someone who turned 65 in 2007 had, on average, 18.6 more years to live.  The 2009 Social Security Trustees Report also projected that over the next 25 years the life expectancy at age 65 will increase to 19.5 more years.  Many cite this as a reason to support increasing the retirement age.  Also, by encouraging workers to stay in the work force longer, more revenue will come into Social Security’s coffers.

On the other hand, critics of the proposal argue that people can’t always determine the timing of the application for Social Security benefits.  They say that people are often forced to retire earlier than planned due to health problems, layoffs, new technology, or needing to care for one’s parent or spouse.  They argue that raising the age for full benefits results in reducing the early, age 62 benefit even more than it already is today.

With a majority of seniors today depending on Social Security for at least half of their income over a 20 to 30 years retirement, TSCL opposes proposals that would cut the benefits of current retirees and those nearing retirement.  We are continuing to monitor this proposal and waiting to see what legislation may develop.  While TSCL believes that changes are needed to ensure that Social Security continues pay scheduled benefits, changes must be kept as small as possible, and phased in over as long a period as possible to allow for future retirees to learn about and adjust their plans.
To learn more, please visit www.seniorsleague.org.

Source: The Full Retirement Age is Increasing, Social Security Administration, July 23, 2010.  http://www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/ageincrease.htm