I have never forgotten a long-ago political cartoon that made a lasting impression.
Two businessmen were walking down the street and one says to the other: “I’m a liberal except where I’m concerned.”
It’s a sardonic message, but one that matches our psychology. Want to take more from paychecks to support a better society with a social safety net? Sure.
You want to take more from my paycheck? Oh, I don’t think so.
And that brings us to the 2016 presidential race, otherwise known as silly season. Where gigantic gifts of social welfare are promised and nobody wants (or cares) to know where the money will be found.
Everyone remembers Walter Mondale. He had the integrity to tell Americans a tax increase was most definitely in the offing should he be elected. We responded by awarding him 13 electoral votes. At least he won his home state of Minnesota.
Truth and hard choices are things we don’t like to hear. Take Social Security, for example. To listen to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton speak on the issue, Social Security is a Porsche Spyder with 300,000 miles to go.
Actually, the program is more like the 1970 Ford Maverick I wrote about last week. A major overhaul is needed and everybody but these two seems to know it.
Or do we? Seven in 10 registered voters say that Social Security benefits should not be cut in any way, according to a March survey by the Pew Research Center.
The answer would seem to be a little more nuanced. Maybe the right analogy is not a car at all, but that uncomfortable Uncle Frank who drinks a little too much and stares a little too long at family gatherings. Everyone knows Frank has a problem, but nobody wants to talk about it and hopes it will go away on its own.
I don’t think this problem with Social Security is going away, so we probably need a more confrontational approach. That is most definitely not going to happen during this election.
Both Clinton and Trump vow to fight any attempt to reduce benefits in any way. The Pollyannaish Clinton, in fact, wants to increase benefits. What Social Security problem!?!
In reality, Treasury will start spending down the Social Security trust fund after 2019. Its reserves are estimated to last until 2035. At that point, the fund will have only incoming payroll deductions to pay benefits, which means recipients will get 70 to 80 percent of what they are owed.
Full disclosure: I hope to retire sometime around 2035 or 2036. Yeah, I’d like to get my full benefits. But more importantly, I support a solution to the problem.
And the obvious solution is pushing the retirement age back. The original Social Security Act of 1935 set the minimum age for receiving full retirement benefits at 65. At that time, the life expectancy was 62 for males and 67 for females.
Today, the life expectancy for men is 77 and for women, 81. Still, the program has changed its retirement age once: 1983 amendments phased in a gradual increase in the age for collecting full benefits from 65 to 67 over a 22-year period.
So my life expectancy has increased from 62 to 77, but the official retirement age has been bumped just two years?
That’s not right and my generation is ready to absorb some pain. It’s time for more legislation hiking the retirement age to 69. It can be structured the same way, over a 22-year period.
It’s time for some straight talk, followed by action. My generation of future retirees should demand it.
InsuranceNewsNet Senior Editor John Hilton has covered business and other beats in more than 20 years of daily journalism. John may be reached at [email protected]
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