The Youth of Age
Ronni at Her Job

Social Security – Part 13: The Problem with Raising Retirement Age

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Norm Geras has been publishing a normblog profile every Friday for 75 weeks now - a Q&A with bloggers of an astonishingly wide array of interests and expertise. Today, he has profiled Crabby Old Lady’s alter ego, Ronni Bennett.]

There has been a relative lull in the Social Security privatization debate this week while President Bush has been making nice with national leaders in Europe.

The New York Times, in an editorial, explained why Bush’s claim that privatization will allow workers to bequeath their private accounts to their heirs doesn’t hold water. Robert J. Samuelson in the Washington Post took journalists to task for not doing the math in their reporting on Social Security. And some labor unions sent letters of protest to Wall Street firms that have been lobbying for privatization.

A conservative group, USA Next, attacked AARP in an internet advertisement for their opposition to privatization by suggesting AARP supports gay marriage. (It takes no position either way.) More attacks, via television ads, are planned by the group which says it has amassed $10 million for the purpose so far, and it has hired Chris LaCivita who was associated with the Swift Boat Veterans during last year's presidential election campaign. Expect things to get nasty in the coming weeks.

What Crabby Old Lady finds missing in the jockeying for position on the issue, is any discussion about what can and should be done to ensure that benefits will not need to be cut 30 or 40 years down the road. There are a number of generally painless, minor tweaks to the Social Security system that can do this. One is raising the age at which full benefits are paid.

Many opponents of Social Security privatization have suggested this. Because we are all living longer, healthier lives, Crabby thinks this is an excellent idea to add to the mix to help maintain Social Security’s benefit levels into the future. In this way, more people would contribute longer to the plan, building up reserves.

There is, however, a catch – a big one - to this idea:

For it to work, corporate America must allow older people to continue working, and they are not much inclined to do so. Age discrimination in the workplace is so widespread that it is just a fact of life for older workers, and every year, millions of them become road kill, their livelihoods dead and gone in their prime and their valuable skills squandered to the notion that they become dinosaurs at age 50 and even younger.

There are laws against age discrimination which employers and the recruiting industry routinely skirt, circumvent and ignore. Age discrimination is as much a civil rights crime as race and gender discrimination, yet less than third of legal actions brought against employers for it succeed. Many such cases are settled out of court with findings sealed so that no one ever knows the crimes corporations have admitted to.

In addition, many age discrimination legal complaints are never brought against employers because the system works against employees and for corporations. A worker who believes his firing is due to age discrimination must pay an attorney $400 or more an hour to pursue the case, while corporations sit back and let their staff counsel stretch out the pre-court process with briefs, depositions and other delaying tactics until the plaintiff is bankrupt. Therefore, few pursue it.

So as much as Crabby Old Lady approves the idea of raising the retirement age as one tool to help protect the future of Social Security, it is not a feasible option until federal and state governments, the courts and the culture at large take age discrimination as seriously as they took on civil rights and women’s rights in the 1960s. Older people are the last acceptable prejudice and it must end.


I enjoyed reading your profile at the normblog this morning, Ronni. I have the same love of the Old City of Jerusalem, love your political wisdom, completely agree with compassion as the most important personal quality, and was thrilled at what you had to say to "novice bloggers!" In addition - I adore singing - and do (only not like those you mentioned - a bit too folky and sweet for your liking probably). 'Everything is interesting if you pay attention' is pretty much what I said in my "groupie" piece yesterday! And as for the bit about the cat - purrfect!

I've linked to this post as part of my “Catching My Eye” feature this morning.

Great post. You don't know me, but I've been following your blog for weeks now. So far, always a good read. Thanks.

Excellent comments regarding age discrimination. I am fortunate being a child psychiatrist and there are so few of us nowadays that I work in an area of the country in which there are only five of me in an area of nearly 250 miles by 150 miles, western NC. My naive Republican brother in law in his early fifties was just abruply RIF'ed out by Honeywell in the Raleigh area after he worked his heart out for 30 years for Allied Chemical then Honeywell and given only a week's notice. He is in shock and does not know what to think or to do with himself. He is now rethinking his entire Republican view of life...

You might be interested in this Boomer blog where they talk about Social security too.

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