Would raising the retirement age to 70 save Social Security?

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

A bipartisan group of senators is reportedly considering a plan that would raise the full retirement age for Social Security to 70 as a way to prevent the program from becoming insolvent in the next decade.

Social Security is often referred to as the “third rail” of American politics. Any lawmaker who dares touch the nation’s largest entitlement program, the saying goes, is in for a shocking and abrupt political death. But as popular as it is, the program’s future stability is very much in doubt. A trust fund that helps cover the costs of retirement benefits is on pace to run out of money in 2034. If that’s allowed to happen, benefits across the board would automatically be cut by nearly a quarter.

Since 1935, Social Security has provided financial support to older Americans to prevent them from slipping into poverty after they’ve left the workforce. In 2022, the government spent $1.2 trillion on Social Security benefits, just under 20% of the entire federal budget. Those funds helped support more than 48 million retired Americans, as well as millions of disabled people and relatives of deceased workers.

With many lawmakers hesitant to increase taxes or cut Social Security benefits, the idea of increasing the retirement age has often been raised as a way to decrease spending without hurting the incomes of people who rely on the program right now. Under the current system, people can begin collecting Social Security benefits when they turn 62, but they receive less money every month than they would if they had waited until they reached what’s known as the full retirement age — currently 67 for anyone born after 1960. Typically, proposals to raise the retirement age call for leaving that minimum of 62 in place while gradually increasing the full retirement age.

Why there’s debate

Supporters of the idea say raising the full retirement age is the least painful option for securing Social Security’s long-term future. “​​You have to recognize that life expectancy is a lot more today than it was when Social Security was established,” Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, told NBC News last week. Others say slowly increasing the age over a number of years would solidify the program’s budget while sparing seniors from the shock of a sudden benefit cut and allow younger workers to plan for the change during their careers. Many point to the success of a law passed in 1983, which saved billions by gradually shifting full retirement from 65 to 67.

But opponents say that raising the retirement age is just a benefit cut by another name, since the ultimate result would be less money in the pockets of seniors. They argue that the change would be especially harmful to poor Americans, who are more likely to stop working before they want to and to rely on Social Security as their only source of income. Some also say the proposal is based on the false premise that retirement is always a matter of choice, when in reality many people are forced to leave the workforce before they’d like to because of health issues, the physical demands of their jobs or age discrimination.

Many Democrats argue that it would be unnecessary to increase the retirement age if Congress were willing to raise taxes on the rich. “It’s a question of math, and it’s a question of values,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., argued on Twitter. The GOP, for its part, has mostly moved away from plans like privatizing Social Security, but the concept still enjoys support among some Republicans.

What’s next

Whether the bipartisan group of senators recommends it or not, the odds of a bill to raise the retirement age making it through Congress are generally considered to be very slim. Still, Social Security appears primed to remain a major issue in the 2024 presidential race.



People are living longer, so it makes sense to incentivize later retirement

“Due to the increases in life expectancies at older ages, raising Social Security’s retirement age for full benefits to 70 years would still provide men and women with more years in retirement than was envisaged when the program was established in 1935.” — Joseph Chamie, The Hill

Raising the retirement age would help protect older Americans who need the most support

“In reality [raising the age] would restore Social Security to its proper role as a safety net for the truly needy, not a conveyer belt to transfer wealth from the younger, working population to the older, relatively wealthier retired population. When Social Security launched in 1935, the average life expectancy for Americans was 61. That’s changed, so the program’s parameters should too.” — Eric Boehm, Reason

If nothing changes, devastating cuts are coming soon

“Protecting the status quo means accepting future benefit cuts. If you or someone you love plans to be alive in 2035, that should concern you. Protecting Social Security’s future requires changes now.” — Victor Joecks, Las Vegas Review-Journal

Saving Social Security will be easy if lawmakers develop an ounce of political courage

“Everyone knows how to fix Social Security. For starters, we can gradually raise the full eligibility age. … The answers are obvious. Just not easy. And that’s why we keep hearing that sound of aluminum on asphalt: the sound of the can being kicked down the road.” — Paul Brandus, MarketWatch

We can’t solve every problem by raising taxes on the rich

“It just isn’t realistic to expect the rich to pay for it all. … We also need to dial back our spending aspirations and make some thoughtful cuts to our benefits, like increasing the retirement age for Social Security and lowering benefits for high earners.” — Allison Schrager, Bloomberg


Raising the retirement age would simply delay the inevitable

“Increasing the age has a short-term effect but isn’t, by itself, a long-term solution. …

The challenge, fundamentally, is that there are a lot of Americans who are living longer. Something we could have seen coming for about the past 76 years.” — Philip Bump, Washington Post

Many older workers don’t get to decide when they retire

“Raising the retirement age would force seniors to either stay in the workforce longer or accept a greatly reduced benefit by taking early retirement. Neither choice is great. In fact, they wouldn’t even be choices. Even if someone wants to work until 70 in order to get the full Social Security benefit, they may not get the chance. Older workers are more likely than others to be laid off. Many also experience physical and mental difficulties that make it hard to work, or they have to care for a spouse going through the same thing.” — Editorial, Portland Press Herald

Any cuts to Social Security would send elderly Americans into poverty

“Cutting Social Security and Medicare could have disastrous consequences for middle- and lower-class Americans, who are already having trouble affording basic expenses like medical care. Social Security is the single most effective anti-poverty program by far in the U.S., even with payouts that are still too low to prevent poverty for many.” — Sharon Zhang, Truthout

Workers have earned the chance to retire comfortably on their terms

“Social Security ‘reformers’ always tend to forget the realities faced by the vast majority of American workers. The program was created to give them a shot at a secure retirement after a lifetime of what may have been backbreaking work. The advocates of raising the retirement age want to take it away.” — Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times

A higher retirement age would punish the poor and reward the rich

“People are living longer, so they can work longer, right? Well, some people are living longer. … Life expectancy has indeed risen a lot for the affluent, but for the less well-paid members of the working class, it has hardly risen at all. What this means is that calling for an increase in the retirement age is, in effect, saying that janitors can’t be allowed to retire because lawyers are living longer. Not a very nice position to take.” — Paul Krugman, New York Times

The obvious solution is staring lawmakers right in the face

“Social Security is a vast, highly successful program. That makes it sound complicated. It’s not. It was built on simple moral and operational principles. … That makes the choice for our elected officials simple, too: Are you going to make the wealthy step up or are you going to hide behind word-salad speeches and sleight-of-hand legislation? One thing is clear: any politician who expresses concern about Social Security’s finances without being willing to tax the rich is a phony. Nothing but a phony.” — Richard Eskow, Common Dreams

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