A modest (retirement) proposal
“Not too much, at least at first,” she confessed, “but I do want to spend more time with my parents.”
This sentiment — people retiring at least in part to take care of or simply spend more time with their parents — is not uncommon, at least in my experience. A majority of the retirees I’ve known in the past five years have had at least one parent still alive. Of course, quitting work to spend a few last years with a parent is a touching gesture that’s emblematic of a prosperous society that’s getting healthier all the time (never mind reports to the contrary) and still places a high value on the importance of family.
And it must be ended at once.
In a country where life expectancies are increasing continually, our retirement age stubbornly remains at age 65, where it has been since the concept of retirement first became established. Following the advent of Social Security, the retirement age slowly crept down for a number of decades and then gradually reversed course about 15 years ago, around when Social Security’s earnings limits on retirees were eliminated. That trend apparently has accelerated after the financial collapse of 2008 decimated the retirement savings of millions of elderly near-retirees. Nevertheless, the average retirement ages for men and women today are still within spitting distance of 65.
Longevity, on the other hand, inexorably marches forward, especially for those who manage to reach age 65. While my cohort, males between 40-60, has seen its death rates remain fixed for three decades (there’s apparently no cure for stupidity), the longevity for those who do reach age 65 has been accelerating, going up by six months in the 1990s and by a year and a half in the 2000s. A woman who reaches age 65 today has a better chance than ever of living over 20 more years. Basic probability tells us that the odds are quite good that someone who reaches age 65 will have at least one parent alive.
Which brings me to my proposal: The main argument trotted out by opponents of increasing the retirement age for Social Security or Medicare is that some people can’t work that long because of the physical nature of their job, a poor gene pool, or exposure to an unhealthy environment over a lifetime. For this cohort of workers, having to put in additional years of work would give them precious little time to enjoy their golden years unencumbered by the grind.
This is undoubtedly true for a fraction of our workers, whom we’d rather not screw over while making those who can reasonably expect to be living into their 80s and 90s spend a few more years earning and paying for their retirement. The question is, then, is there a good way to identify who should get to retire at 65 and who should work more?
One way would be to permit those who toil in certain manual occupations to stick with 65, or to require those who wish to retire early to submit to a comprehensive physical exam to determine their relative health. These are, of course, crude ways of determining one’s longevity, and methods that would be easy for someone to game.
Let me propose another crude technique that I think would make it easier for the retirement age to capture gains in longevity and would be nearly impossible to game: No one can retire and receive Social Security and Medicare Benefits until both parents are deceased.
Unfair? To some people, maybe, but arguably for fewer people than our one-size-fits-all retirement age.