Benefits at What Age?

December 11, 2012

Should we raise the age of eligibility for Social Security and Medicare? Life expectancy has increased seven years since 1970. So, should the eligibility age be raised seven years as well? One problem. Over the past 20 years, life expectancy at age 65 has risen five years for men with above average income but only one year for men with below average income. In a new study, NCPA Senior Fellow and former Social Security and Medicare Trustee Thomas Saving and NCPA Senior Fellow Andrew Rettenmaier explain how we can skirt this problem: raise the age of eligibility for Social Security and at the same time make the benefit formula more progressive. For Medicare, you could make the premium payments more progressive.

The authors find:

  • Once longevity differences are accounted for, Social Security's progressivity is lessened, relative to estimates based on average longevity estimates by birth year.
  • However, even for the most recent group of new retirees analyzed, the program remains progressive.
  • Further, the study finds that within birth years, the program redistributes from high to low earning workers, even after accounting for income-related differences in longevity.

Combining an increase in the retirement age for all workers with an adjustment to the benefit formula would result in a program that could be financed in the long run at the current tax rate and would retain the program's relative lifetime progressivity.

Progressive price indexing is a reform by which low-income workers' past earnings continue to be indexed by average wages whereas high income workers earnings would be indexed by price level changes. Progressive price indexing would further address concerns about the growth in total benefit payments while retaining and perhaps enhancing the system's progressivity.

Source: Liqun Liu, Andrew J. Rettenmaier, and Thomas R. Saving, "Lifetime Income, Longevity and Social Security Progressivity," National Center for Policy Analysis, December 2012.

 

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