Sep
07
2012

Don't Call It 'Raising the Retirement Age,' Because That's Not What They're Doing

As Dean Baker noted (Beat the Press, 9/7/12), corporate media mostly missed one of the major pieces of news in President Barack Obama's speech to the Democratic National Convention.

Barack Obama (photo by NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Barack Obama

Talking about the federal budget deficit, Obama said, "Now, I’m still eager to reach an agreement based on the principles of my bipartisan debt commission." Then, as he talked about what he would and wouldn't do to reduce the deficit, he included this line: "And we will keep the promise of Social Security by taking the responsible steps to strengthen it–not by turning it over to Wall Street."

"Responsible steps to strengthen it"–what does that mean? Dean Baker helpfully paraphrases:

President Obama implicitly called for cutting Social Security by 3 percent and phasing in an increase in the normal retirement age to 69 when he again endorsed the deficit reduction plan put forward by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, the co-chairs of his deficit commission.

This would be a good thing for voters to know about, wouldn't it?

Baker's blog post explains the 3 percent thing–the result of proposed games with the cost of living adjustment. As for raising the retirement age, that requires further discussion–because that's one of the big lies of the Social Security discussion.

The thing is, nobody who proposes raising the retirement age is really proposing raising the retirement age. If you were just raising the retirement age, you'd have to wait until you were (say) 69 to stop working, but when you did, you get the same benefits that you would now if you retired at age 69.

But no one's proposing that–because that would save hardly any money. The way Social Security works is that you can retire whenever you want starting at age 62–but the longer you wait, the more money you get. The government tries to calculate it based on life expectancy so that whatever date you pick, you end getting (on average) about the same amount of money.

So when they "raised the retirement age"–as they've been in the process of doing for decades now–they didn't say that you couldn't retire at 62 anymore. They said that if you retired at 62, you'd get less money. And you'd get less money if you retired at 63, or 64, or 65, or….

There's a more accurate way than "raising the retirement age" to describe this policy of lowering the amount of money someone at any given age receives when they retire. It's "cutting Social Security benefits."

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.