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Raising the Retirement Age

Every individual has his or her own ideas about the purpose of life and what makes a person’s life worthwhile.  Some people’s opinions are based on religious doctrines, while others are inspired by art, music or family.  Despite the countless differences in the world, there is one claim that everyone seems to agree with: people have to work in order to survive.  Without working, whether in the fields of Africa or in the corporate settings of New York, one cannot get far.  This is because the system, which is balancing the world, requires that one must work diligently in order to be rewarded with money. This money in turn will be used to buy basic survival commodities, such as food, and luxury products and comfort.  Money is also required for the people, who cannot work any longer, like the elderly of the society.  However, in America the problem is that the elderly members of the society are being threatened to work longer instead of retiring at a suitable age; and there is a constant debate between politicians about the ways to save money.  Unfortunately, these politicians believe that the money can be saved if the elderly are overburdened and forced to work longer.  Jeanne Sahadi (2010) states in her article, “Many budget and debt experts recommend that the retirement age be raised further. Why? Because Americans are living longer and spending more years in retirement than they did when Social Security was established.” The debate over raising the retirement age to 67 in the United States is futile, as increasing the retirement age is not only a useless attempt at helping the economy, but it also poses many problems, such as age discrimination at the workplace, health problems of elderly employees, and a threat of a high unemployment rate among young specialists.

First and foremost, policy makers are focusing on the wrong aspects when it comes to improving the country’s economy; they incorrectly believe that since the life expectancy in America has risen, the retirement age should be increased as well.  Economist Monique Morrissey states,

A retirement age hike would unfairly hurt workers in physically demanding jobs, those in poor health or in low-income groups whose life expectancy hasn't gone up much. Many people over 65 would also be hurt, they say, since age discrimination can make it hard for seniors to secure jobs (Sahadi, 2010). 

A raised retirement age does not aid the economy; in fact, it severely weakens it.  This is because it is unwise and impractical for the elderly of the society to be working diligently in tough jobs, while the younger generations are wasting away their abilities, talents, strength and youth.  Other avenues like raising taxes for the rich can easily be taken to aid the economy.   Economic Policy Institute’s Ross Eisenbery states, “The right answer to the program's financing problem isn't to make people in physically demanding jobs work until they drop.  It's to make the rich pay a fair share of the taxes needed to fund full benefits" (Stone, 2010).  What is more, the total focus of policy makers is centered on the wrong issue.  Currently, officials at the White House have created a panel for discussion and decision making, which is made up of eighteen people (Mason, 2010).  The goal is to dwell into in-depth and point by point discussions and make matters more complicated about the increase in the retirement age for Americans. 

However, the government should be working on improving technology, educational venues, workplace training and investing in Americans’ health so as to improve the overall economic state.  Ghilarducci states, "We're forgetting that many of the reasons people live longer is that they're able to retire earlier" (Mason, 2010).  Even though people are living longer, they are working harder and paying more social security than before.  Also, the debate is becoming redundant and extremely vexing for the public, as it seems that the people set in charge to lead and make innovative new policies continue to flip flop from one side to the next and cannot make up their minds on single issue.  Correspondent Andrea Stone (2010) pointed out:

This wouldn't be the first time Congress has raised the age workers can retire with full benefits. In 2003, the retirement age began creeping up from the original 65. Today, full retirement comes at 66 and will gradually rise to 67 in 2022. Early eligibility for retirement, which brings with it reduced monthly benefits, has remained at 62.

Furthermore, the majority of jobs are blue collared, including the minorities serving lower labor jobs; and these occupations demand extensive physical labor, which would not only be impractical and difficult to impose on the elderly but also inhumane.  Supporters of the increase in the retirement age give impractical goals such as raising the age to 70, which is not only astonishing but one is left to question these people’s judgment along with the sense of respect and selflessness for humanity.  Supporters like House minority leader John Boehner stated in the Pittsburg Tribune Review, "Eventually getting the retirement age to 70 is a step that needs to be taken" (Mason, 2010). Surely, a 70 years old man or woman needs to be surrounded by loved ones and relaxation and not by overburdening assignments.  This is because the older the age, the slower the reaction and reflex time becomes, along with memory loss can be highly hazardous to the worker and can also impact the work quality, which in turn will have an astoundingly negative effect on the company’s reputation and image.  As for minorities and low-income workers, they will be treated unfairly if the retirement age is raised.  According to the report published by the liberal Economic Policy Institute, "Raising the Social Security retirement age would be especially hard on lower-income and minority workers, given large and growing disparities in life expectancy and poor health and/or job prospects” (Stone, 2010).

Moreover, jobs are extremely hard to find in later age, as most companies want younger workers to represent them as they have the advantages of young age, such as quick speed, swift reaction and reflex times, and newer, fresh ideas.  According to statistics, the OECD estimates that only 50% of 55 to 64 year olds are in the workforce (and in the EU the figure is as low as 39%), compared to 75% of 25 to 54 year olds.  The problem with older age groups is that once they do get a job or their retirement is extended,  the older workers face higher age discrimination and biases with each passing year not only from fellow colleagues but also from employers.  Furthermore, the current recession affected people in their 50’s and 60’s the most, and this group is in danger of not getting back in the workforce, therefore policy makers should seriously rethink their goals of raising the bar higher.  Also, youngsters are competing to get jobs, as well as employers are opting to hire them because they demand less salary and have the latest and up to date education requirements (Stone, 2010).

Another great factor that plays a crucial role in the debate about whether or not to raise the retirement age is that the older a person gets, the more he or she is physically restricted and unable to do many physically demanding jobs.  Older people working in the construction business, for example, cannot be expected to lift heavy materials, transport them, and also do other jobs like utilizing heavy machinery.  In fact, it an insult to them and our society as a whole to have the elderly continue on doing physically demanding work for the rest of the community.  On the contrary, it is the rest of the community members, who should be aiding them in this critical stage of life by running errands for them, helping them find suitable housing and income, and being noble neighbors.  Only a society with crippled morals and ethics will so inhumanely force its elderly to keep on working until they literally drop.  Joe Bergola, a 42 years old man featured in the CBS news article over the retirement age debate, admits that he is facing physical challenges that were not a problem when he was much younger.  He stated,

This job involves a lot of bending; Year in and year out just too many aches and pains.  I have two sons and I have two grandchildren and I just want to spend more time with them. If they force me to work till 70, I'll probably die before I get any social security.”

Like Bergola, one in every three Americans is performing jobs that are physically demanding.   An economist working at the Urban Institute, Eugene Steurele, says that according to the new study conducted, “We will soon have a system in which close to 1/3 of the adult population will be retiring for about 1/3 of their adult lives on social security” (Mason, 2010).   

Focusing on a specific example of how raising the retirement age will affect numerous people and career paths negatively, I will use my personal career field of being in the United States Armed Forces.  The army is less traditionally affected by the raised retirement age, and those who are affected the most are few in number.  This is because a person may retire from the army at whichever stage he or she desires or after a certain number of either training sessions or years have passed by.  However, there is a mandatory retirement age for certain ranks, usually at the higher posts.  Increasing this retirement age would definitely have a negative impact on the army as a whole.  Once the retirement age is raised, people will be forced to work for older people who have led them in the same manner and with the same redundant methods and policies for years and years.  In the military, it is critical to be flexible and change policies and styles according to the time and circumstances.  This is exactly why it is crucial to have new and fresh ideas along with younger people, who are knowledgeable about the latest warfare and technology to be given the chance to step up into the leadership positions. 

Also, a huge part of military training and wellbeing has to do with physical fitness and great overall health.  Those who are very old cannot do the same things they were once expected to do.  Their inner health is also under scrutiny, as problems that come with old age become obstacles, which include heart disease, respiratory issues, and joint pain.  The military men and women are responsible for keeping the United States of America safe from enemies; and jeopardizing this safety by trying to make a few economic cut backs is extremely dangerous and is an insult to the American citizens.  In fact, many Americans do not realize that there are many people who are elderly and therefore are not capable of leading the armed forces anymore.

In addition, age discrimination is already a problem in the Armed Forces working environment and raising the retirement age will further prolong it.  Since the majority of soldiers or other employees in the Armed forces are young and thus they may have many types of immaturities; they display these immaturities all too easily even when presented with the opportunity.  The elderly group of employees are often made fun of or scorned since they are unable to perform many physical and some mental assignments given to them.  There is also a sense of traditional conservative thinking of the elderly men and women’s group, which creates a deep age between officers and employees.  Raising the retirement age will prolong these problems and widen the generational and cultural gaps. 

As for solutions, there are many ways out of this debate over whether or not the retirement age should be increased.  The simplest answer is not to have this debate at all and focus on more important issues as mentioned earlier.  These issues deal with reforms of education and morality through educational programs and teacher trainings.  The educational standards in American schools are declining, and this in fact that can be seen in today’s popular culture, which is practiced and followed blindly by the younger generations.  There is nothing productive going on that can inspire them to become great leaders of tomorrow.  Government officials and political leaders should recognize this problem and fund groups that will brainstorm ideas about reforming education and work on guiding the youth.  The so-called leaders of the American people need to stop wasting time on redundant issues and focus on the children who are being neglected, because the adults are too busy putting their selfish plans into action. 

The leaders in charge of this country need to reprioritize their concerns and duties, and work on things that truly matter and have a direct current effect on Americans.  Even though people continuously rant on about raising the retirement age, lowering it, or keeping it just the way it is, they fail to realize that other issues within the same topic should be focused on.  For instance, economic leaders, planners and politicians need to focus on improving the current retirement plans and packages available to the American citizens, which can be both private and public.  Currently, there are countless flaws in the retirement plans and packages used by millions and the focus of this debate needs to shift from useless finger pointing and trying to prove each side right to actually presenting the public with practical and long lasting options.  Girard Millers (2011) states in his article in the New York Times:

Many cities across America will be compelled to freeze public workers’ salaries until they restore their retirement plans' funding levels to sustainable levels and begin paying the full actuarial costs. As the economy begins to improve, elected leaders will need to devote almost all their new revenues from economic growth toward the proper funding of retirement benefits.

Contrary to what most policymakers believe, raising the retirement age will fail to provide any immediate or long-term benefits to either the American economy or American people; in fact, the opposite impact is expected with people facing age discrimination, replacement by the new generations and ongoing heath issues.  Those in favor of raising the retirement age want to reach the goal of 67 by 2022 and the current age is already at 66 (Mason, 2010).  There are many factors that play a role in a person’s decision to retire and the government’s unfair laws should not be one of them.  Many people have certain economic goals in life which they feel must be reached in order to live a comfortable and economically healthy rest of the life.  Therefore, many people prefer to work longer, often working at a different job after their official retirement from their first jobs.  Another reason for this post retirement job is that people feel that they should stay active in order to be physically and mentally healthy and perform the role of an active member of the society.  Whatever the reason for working later in life, the choice should be personal and optional.  The government should neither be able to impose this decision on people, nor force companies and employers to risk the reputation and work quality of their corporations. 

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