US must raise retirement age

Though their views ignite controversy on multiple fronts, the tea party is right about one thing: America’s entitlement programs need to be reformed.

The U.S. Social Security system, which is taken out of every American’s taxes for the older generation’s benefits, was created in a time where people did not live as long as they do now. The program is currently succumbing to overextension, as the baby-boomer generation of the 1960s and 1970s begins to retire en masse.

If the minimum age for Social Security retirement benefits is not raised, the country’s fiscal problems will spiral out of control.

According to the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) website, for those born after 1960, the minimum age for full retirement benefits is 67, only one year higher than for those born in 1943.

The average life expectancy for an American today is about 78 years, according to 2011 census data, meaning an average American could receive retirement benefits for 11 years. By contrast, the average life expectancy in 1950 was 71, according to US Census Data, leaving only four years of retirement benefits.

It doesn’t take an economist to see that the amount of time between the retirement age and life expectancy has vastly increased. On top of the smaller cohort of young workers paying into social security, the program runs a deficit of $46 billion for fiscal year 2011, according to the SSA.

The retirement age need not be increased drastically. Raising the age by two years is a good first step, and would still leave plenty of time for today’s seniors to enjoy their retirement without running the program dry for future generations. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) presented a proposal in June to raise the Social Security retirement age to 69 and cut cost-of-living adjustments for benefits.

According to The Hill, Hutchison said her proposal, the Defend and Save Social Security Act, would save $416 billion over the next 10 years and reduce the public debt by $7.2 trillion by the year 2085.

Though the retirement age must be raised, when such a change should go into effect is up for debate.

Implementing a new policy sometime in the next two years would throw the retirement plans of those on the verge of retiring into chaos. Enforcing a change 10 years down the line is tantamount to never in Washington, and does nothing to rein in the short-term spending problem. Somewhere in the middle, perhaps four or five years, would be an appropriate amount of time to allow people to adjust their retirement plans.

While the solution seems simple, it will involve sacrifice. Currently, the young are making the sacrifices for the sake of their elders, paying a disproportionate share of the fiscal burden of Social Security.

If the U.S. does not raise the retirement age, Social Security contributions will have to increase or America will have to borrow more, impoverishing our generation and generations to come.