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The Hardship of Retiring Later

The New York Times does the great service of actually looking at the consequences of raising the retirement age for a significant number of Americans:

At the Cooper Tire plant in Findlay, Ohio, Jack Hartley, who is 58, works a 12-hour shift assembling tires: pulling piles of rubber and lining over a drum, cutting the material with a hot knife, lifting the half-finished tire, which weighs 10 to 20 pounds, and throwing it onto a rack.

Mr. Hartley performs these steps nearly 30 times an hour, or 300 times in a shift. “The pain started about the time I was 50,” he said. “Dessert with lunch is ibuprofen. Your knees start going bad, your lower back, your elbows, your shoulders.”

He said he does not think he can last until age 66, when he will be eligible for full Social Security retirement benefits. At 62 or 65, he said, “that’s it.”

After years of debate about how to keep Social Security solvent, the White House has created an 18-member panel to consider changes, including raising the retirement age. Representative John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio and the House minority leader, has called for raising the age as high as 70 in the next 20 years, and many Democrats have endorsed similar steps, against opposition from some liberal groups. The panel will report by Dec. 1, after the midterm elections.

Despite the shift to a service-sector economy, we still have a substantial amount of workers who engage in manual labor every single day of their working lives. Alan Simpson probably hasn’t had to lift much in the past several years, beyond his finger in rage at disabled veterans for daring to steal federal money for health care treatment, but millions of people like Jack Hartley do it for a living. In fact, one in three workers over age 58 engage in the same workday activities. And they simply cannot hold out until 70 for retirement benefits.

The likelihood is they won’t. They’ll retire when their bodies tell them to retire. As a result, they’ll wind up with diminished Social Security benefits, which of course is the entire point of the assault on the retirement age. It’s designed to reduce the benefit you get out, after paying into the system your entire life.

For some, the meager partial benefit at age 62 won’t be enough to live on, and they’ll stay in their laborious jobs. And don’t think for a second this won’t lead to workplace casualties.

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David Dayen

David Dayen