Really impressive piece of journalism this AM from Mike Fletcher at the WaPo about the differences in life expectancy between older persons of widely different economic means. The figure below tells the story, showing the evolution of differences in life expectancy between two Florida counties, one with income levels twice the other. The differences are particularly stark for men.
The piece importantly draws out the implications of these findings for a policy change for which many in DC are pushing: increasing the retirement age for Social Security. The eligibility age for full benefits is already on its way up to 67 from 65, but based on the top (blue) lines in the figures below, many are calling for it to go higher still.
But what about the lower lines? Increasing the eligibility age is a benefit cut for all recipients, but it obviously falls hardest on those who’ve paid in throughout their working life but don’t stick around long enough to collect their benefits (it’s also true that lower income beneficiaries who do live long enough collect more than they put in, and visa versa for those at the top of the income scale—the benefit schedules are progressive).
Two points about this. First, in decades of work on these issues, I’ve only heard the “raise the eligibility age” argument from those whose life expectancies are going up; those in the lower lines in the figure have little voice in this debate. Second, this is another way in which our historically high levels of income inequality must be considered in our policy debates. Any “reforms” of entitlements must then factor in this critical information and protect the economically vulnerable by insuring their lasting retirement security.
Source: WaPo, link above