The full retirement age for Social Security is gradually moving from 65 to 67. Some politicians want to raise it even higher. Additionally, some people say the solution to America’s retirement security crisis is to work longer. For many workers, however, this is just not an option as they are forced to retire early due to health issues, care-giving duties, or other external circumstances.
According to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, only half of U.S. workers continue working past age 63 and only a third past age 65. They cite a study from the University of Michigan and the RAND Corporation that finds three job characteristics that allow people to remain in the workforce longer: low stress, stable job demands and duties, and the ability to transition to part-time work.
Workers, however, often leave the workforce early to care for family members. Mark from Reading, PA, shared his story with us:
“My wife was ill with end stage liver disease, and I retired early – the first day I qualified for a pension – to take care of her. My retirement annuity is very small, but it is regular, and it allowed me to extend my late wife’s life far beyond what her doctor had predicted…and it allows me to have a secure retirement on my own now that I am also ill. I would not be able to do this without it.”
Pensions have long been valued as a workforce management tool. Older workers are more likely to retire if they know they have a modest, but stable pension to rely on in retirement. This facilitates the transition of older workers out of the workforce as they face declining health and other factors that make them less capable of doing their jobs. For many workers in manual labor jobs or public safety jobs, like firefighting, jobs that are physically demanding, their bodies often can no longer handle the rigors of their work after a 30 year career. Their pension allows them to give their weary bodies a rest after decades of hard work.
When politicians call for raising the full retirement age for Social Security, they ignore the complicated reality of when and why people retire. Nearly half of Social Security beneficiaries retire early and, therefore, face a permanent reduction in their benefits. Raising the retirement age would only increase the number of people facing this permanent reduction in benefits. Politicians need to realize that when they want to raise the retirement age of Social Security or cut pension benefits, saying “people can just work longer” is often not a realistic solution to the problem. Furthermore, these benefit cuts disproportionately affect low-skilled workers with the least education, who are the mostly likely to take early retirement. These workers are also the least likely to have access to a workplace retirement savings plan, whether it’s a pension or a 401(k). Retirement is not an easy decision for many workers and many are forced to retire, even if they are not ready. A worker who has earned a pension, though, can at least count on it.