Few Americans pay into Social Security thinking they won’t live to see some benefit from it when they retire – but if Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has his way, that would actually be the case for millions of people.
American workers pay 6.2% of their paycheck into Social Security (well, 4.2% until the recent payroll tax reduction expires in a year). In return they are guaranteed a modicum of economic dignity in retirement, assistance if they become disabled, and peace of mind knowing their children and spouse will be taken care of if they die unexpectedly.
But Rep. Ryan’s proposal to raise the retirement age to at- or near-life expectancy levels for millions of Americans would mean many people would never see a check:
When you crunch the numbers, the conclusions are stark. The average life expectancy of an African-American in the United States is 67 years. And that’s for all African-Americans, regardless of social class. The average life expectancy of an African-American unskilled manual laborer would undoubtedly be even lower — certainly low enough that a retirement age as high as 70 would discriminate profoundly.
And it gets worse. Although life-span expectancies for all groups have been growing for the last century, the gains have been much stronger for the wealthier classes over the last few decades. Just as income inequality has grown, so has life-span inequality. A study published by the Congressional Budget Office in 2008 found that “there is a growing disparity in life expectancy between individuals with high and low income and between those with more and less education.”