This idea first occurred to me while I was in France in September. I marveled that the debate they’re having (complete with effective social mobilization), is about raising the retirement age to 62. The current Social Security retirement age is 67, and the ‘serious’ proposal from Bowles-Simpson is to index it to life expectancy. This proposal sounds reasonable. But life expectancy, like income, is unevenly distributed. As Paul Krugman and Tom Tomorrow have both pointed out, life expectancy has been increasing much more rapidly for the well-off, not for the rest of the workforce.
My proposal is to implement a progressively higher retirement age for low, middle, and high-income workers. If chosen well, the tiered retirement ages by themselves could eliminate the relatively small projected shortfall twenty-five years from now. When I have time, I plan to run some numbers, but I think that such a system could lower the retirement age for low-income workers.
This proposal would allow more of those workers who do the back-breaking and health-damaging work of our society to retire while they still have some time to enjoy it. Of course, for most of the working poor, social security alone is unlikely to provide a comfortable retirement. But the point of this counter-proposal is simply to shift the burden of balancing the small imbalance in Social Security finance from those who can least afford to bear it, as the current proposal would do, to those who can.