In case you haven’t been paying attention, there’s a big hullaballoo going on about Social Security. No, not the one about the fiscal cliff—we are soooo over that, already! This brouhaha is about whether, when those funny boys from D.C. set up the safety net in 1935, they were counting on the fact that most people didn’t even make it to age 65 (thank you, Glenn Beck).
Visit the Social Security website (and who can resist that temptation?), and those government people are all up in your face about how, in 1935, many people were 65 years old, or were about to be 65 years old, or, even though the life expectancy was only 65 years at the time, were already looking at that age in the rearview mirror. So there were plenty of old codgers and codgesses around to collect government checks, thank you very much! No shell game going on here! There were plenty of feeders at the trough.
Interesting argument, but completely beside the point. The true question is why, in all these years (77 by my count), the full retirement age (and thus, the collection age) has only been raised a total of two years (and not at all since 1983), while life expectancy has steadily been creeping up to close to 80 years of age. Not only that, but the nature of the work done by Americans has slid on over from back-breaking manual labor to the back-destroying sitting industry.
One of the main reasons given for allowing Americans to retire at 65 was that the work they performed was so strenuous they needed the safety net to allow them to relax in their rocking chairs at the tail end of their nasty, brutish and short lives. Many farmers worked long hours for little payback. Collapsing onto their front porches after years of struggle, lifting nothing heavier than a day’s newspaper, was a welcome relief.
Now, more people live in cities than out of them; people who wouldn’t know the back end of a cow if she slapped their faces with her tail. Sixty is the new 50. Every day, we pass 65 year olds on the street who look better than their parents did at 40. A lot of us spend way too much time in our ergonomically designed chairs as it is—instead of encouraging us to look for more sitting around time, we should be harnessing the wisdom that comes from merely surviving so many years on this planet—not to mention, saving a bit of the green that the feds have been so busily dusting the country with.
I understand that part of the rationale of Social Security is to entice anyone on the fence to make the leap into retirement, to clear a space for the next generation. The baby boomers, especially, are clogging the corridors, and need to be gently shuffled into the next chamber of their lives. I think that this is exactly where that can that is being kicked will end up: the current crop of politicians is waiting for that huge hunk of humanity born between 1946 and 1964 to slide into the sunset. At that point, all of the goodies that have been promised to all of those people will cease to matter. Handouts to the following generation will be much less, and this whole sticky situation will soon be forgotten.
The debt will somehow slip away with the last of the big bump, and by the end of this century, the debt and deficit crises will have faded from the last of enduring memories. If the politicians can just hang on for a few more years, to the point where 50 trillion sounds no worse than 10 or 5 or 1 trillion, everything will work itself out as the upside down pyramid of benefit-takers and benefit-providers rights itself. Fewer people will need fewer benefits, and the debt will somehow either just evaporate, or be paid out of the savings resulting from fewer payouts. Anyhow, by then, those in office will be long gone and won’t have to care.
Instead of bucking AARP, and all the fuss and feathers associated with adjusting what was supposed to be merely a safety net for those in need to reflect the realities of current life, it’s so much easier to just wait it out. Besides, who wants to work till they die, when we can be fulfilling our bucket lists on the backs of our children and grandchildren. Instead of ordering our lives so that we enjoy what we’ve got as we wend our way through life’s corridors, we push our gratification off to the end, and howl if any part of our anticipated leisure benefits are threatened. With all our learning and education and scientific discovery, this is the best system we can come up with?
Image courtesy of digitalart/freedigitalphotos.net