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Raising Social Security retirement age may hurt more than help

Some lawmakers propose that raising the age that a person can collect full Social Security benefits saves the government program money and reflects a nation of people who live longer. That may not be true for those with limited incomes or those who may require social security disability benefits.

Social Security benefits are paid to those who cannot work, but those who are not considered wealthy are the ones who need benefits most. Over half of middle and lower income workers over age 58 have physically-demanding jobs. For those over 60, more than 25 percent have medical conditions that limit or prevent working at all.

Living longer doesn't necessarily mean that Americans are living healthier, older lives. Life expectancies for the wealthy have increased, but life spans for men in the middle and lower pay brackets have been raised by just a single year. For women who aren't rich, life expectancies have declined.

Lower-end wage earners are Social Security dependent. A full two-thirds of retirees say half of their income is Social Security; another third says it's the main income. The average one-year Social Security benefit is $14,000.

Social Security benefits may include a cost-of-living increase, but health care costs outpace it. Supplemental coverage and out-of-pocket Medicare expenses has increased in price more quickly than benefits have risen. Even now, full Social Security benefits are only paid when a worker reaches a certain age.

But if the age of retirement gets higher, the number of workers who apply for social security disability benefits will likely increase as well. As workers get older, they may find themselves physically unable to continue working, yet also unable to access retirement benefits.

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer online, "Consensus is wrong on Social Security fix," Theodore Marmor and Jerry Mashaw, 31 May 2011

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