Age Discrimination and Social Security

Morley SaferAaron Carroll, our go to man for healthcare reform and chewing gum swallowing, has written an article over at The Incidental Economist, Zombie Life Expectancy Arguments. In it, he provides five charts that show that it is wrong to say that we should raise the retirement age because people are living long. In particular, he shows that while life expectancy at birth has gone up 10 years since 1950, life expectancy at 65 has only gone up 4 years. What this means is that fewer people die as babies but that doesn’t mean a thing regarding Social Security.

The situation is even worse than this 4 year number indicates. Most of that comes from upper income people. Since 1977, those in the upper half of the income distribution have seen their life expectancy rise 6 years. But those in the lower half of the income distribution are only living 1 year longer. In other words, the people who most rely on Social Security are not living longer and so the whole argument goes away.

There are a couple of other perspectives to look at regarding raising the retirement age. First is one that a lot of people talk about: those doing manual labor might have a hard time continuing to work until they are 70. The people calling for changes in the retirement age are all white collar workers who don’t need to do anything that requires physical strength or fast reflexes. We really need to take these workers into account when discussing these issues.

The other issue that I give a lot of thought to is age discrimination. In the high tech field, I started experiencing this at 30 years old. More to the point, age discrimination is everywhere. Sure, Morley Safer keeps his 60 Minutes gig even at 81, but he’s a star; they get to do whatever they want. But the manager at Big Lots? At 65, he’s going to find his life harder. In fact, he’s probably going to find his life harder at 55. We have a very ageist society—old people are not appreciated. Or at least not appreciated enough.

So it is wrong to push up the age for retirement benefits when the society is not similarly pushing up the age that it thinks people are still valuable members of the workforce.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “Age Discrimination and Social Security

  1. I agree–age discrimination is a serious issue in the job market. When I was looking for a new job a year or so ago, I was surprised at many young people were in the position of interviewing me. They were inexperienced and didn’t understand what questions should be asked of someone in my profession. I think some of them were intimidated by the thought of supervising an older worker. But aside from that, age discrimination seems to be a taboo topic in this society. We don’t want to talk about it or acknowledge it. And there is an widespread lack of respect for elderly people in general. At my position as volunteer program manager, I try as often as I can to pair elderly volunteers with young, college-age volunteers. It’s very good for young people to learn how to interact respectfully with an older generation, and it seems to have a grounding effect on them.

  2. @Kristen – That’s great that you are pairing the old with the young. I also think it is good because all ages have their strengths. I know that I am not as quick thinking as I once was. But I like to think I have abilities that offset that.

    I’ve been told explicitly in the high tech industry that there were concerns about my age. Of course, my experience is that it is always the older workers in a team who get the vast majority of the work done. But the young do make up for this by being very good during crunches that require working 20 hours per day. Synergy!

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