Raising the Retirement Age Would Cut Benefits for Everyone, Especially Our Most Vulnerable

Last year, during his State of the Union address, President Biden called out some politicians for wanting to cut Social Security, our country’s most important anti-poverty program. Hearing boos, Biden said, “So, folks, as we all apparently agree, [cutting] Social Security and Medicare is off the books now, right? They’re not to be touched? “We’ve got unanimity,” he said as both sides applauded.  

However, it appears we do not have unanimity. 

Given its immense role in boosting economic security, Social Security has been popular throughout its 88-year history, and there is strong public opposition to cutting the program. In fact, there’s a reason it’s been referred to as the third rail of politics: many politicians have feared that broaching the subject at all would hurt their careers. 

Established during the New Deal era in 1935, Social Security was designed as a safety net to provide financial support to retirees, disabled people, and survivors of deceased workers. It has been especially critical in keeping older women out of poverty. But recently, some members of Congress have proposed raising the age for receiving Social Security retirement benefits. However, raising the retirement age actually cuts benefits across the board. The plain truth is that these recent proposals to “fix” the program are really attempts to cut Social Security and would hurt the people who rely on Social Security the most.  

The argument goes something like this: people are living longer, so they should be forced to work longer before collecting Social Security retirement benefits. The question that isn’t being asked, however, is who is living longer. 

Research shows that workers who earn lower wages throughout their careers have seen little to no improvement in life expectancy. Black and American Indian and Alaska Native workers also have lower life expectancies than white workers. And women who are working the toughest and most physical jobs, like care workers, may not be able to work longer. Life expectancy gains have almost exclusively gone to higher earners, making this “solution” not only insufficient, but most importantly very discriminatory. 

That reality makes me think about my own mom and grandmother. My mom worries about whether she’ll have adequate time to enjoy her post-retirement life. Unfortunately, my grandmother, who had health complications toward the end of her life, didn’t. This completely unjust “solution” has major consequences for real people like them who don’t deserve to be robbed of valuable years. 

Cutting Social Security retirement benefits for the people who need them the most is not the way to “fix” Social Security. Social Security is the foundation upon which a secure retirement may be built. If the foundation is not strong, the rest of the structure will fail. Policy proposals like raising the retirement age move a secure retirement out of reach for the workers, families, and communities who probably lack other retirement savings—and that is the opposite of Social Security’s intended goal.  

There are better, more effective ways to strengthen the Social Security program that don’t involve harming the people who need the benefits the most. For example, policymakers can lift the Social Security payroll tax cap, ensuring that wealthy Americans contribute to the program based on all of their earnings.  

That’s how we can really protect our most important anti-poverty program for generations to come.