What would Americans do if faced with a change to Social Security?

What would Americans do if faced with a change to Social Security?

16 Dec    Finance News

French workers took to the streets when the prime minister announced the age to claim pension benefits was increasing — but they’re not the only ones who could see that type of change.

American legislators have proposed upping the age for retirees to claim full Social Security benefits. This proposal is just one of a handful of options lawmakers have considered, including hiking up taxes and increasing the cap of income eligible for payroll taxes.

The retirement age in France is increasing — from 62 to 64 — but only for those born after 1975. Workers have spent the last week protesting the change, including a strike from transportation workers across the country. Unions say they’re worried this new system will mean workers will be in the workforce for longer, only to receive a smaller pension when they retire.

See: What you probably don’t know about Social Security

Right now, Americans can begin claiming Social Security benefits at 62, but they don’t receive the full amount of what they’re owed until their “full retirement age,” or FRA, which depends on their birth year. For example, the full retirement age for someone born in 1937 is 65, but for someone born between 1943 and 1954, the age is 66. Anyone born in 1960 or later has a full retirement age of 67. People can claim before their FRA, but they’ll receive a reduction in benefits, or they can delay claiming until up to 70, in which case they’ll receive more than they were originally owed.

American policy makers have weighed the possibility of boosting that full retirement age to 69, or even 70. Doing so would ease the burden the Social Security trust funds are facing — namely, they will run out of reserves in the next 15 years, in which case beneficiaries would receive 80% of their entitlements — but it could also have some harmful effects, said Richard Johnson, director of the program on retirement policy at Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

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Increasing the retirement age for Social Security benefits would reduce benefits for many Americans, Johnson said. The further away full retirement age is from the initial claim, the less money a beneficiary receives. “It creates a real gap between what people get if they work until their full retirement age and what they get when they first start collecting,” he said. This could pose a problem for workers who cannot work well into their 60s, such as someone with a disability or someone else who may have lost a job later in life and is having trouble finding a new one. Social Security serves as a lifeline for many Americans, especially low-income individuals.

Also see: This is why you shouldn’t count on Social Security

But something has to be done to fix Social Security’s inefficiencies, said Pete Earle, a research fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research, a Great Barrington, Mass.-based nonprofit.

France’s new law for claiming pension benefits makes financial sense, even if it may be difficult to accept. The same is true in the U.S., where life expectancy and inflation are vastly different than when the Social Security Act was passed in 1935. At the time, the life expectancy for Americans was 59 for men and 63 for women, compared with 76 and 81 today, respectively, Earle said.

Following in the footsteps of the French government is one viable option to fixing Americans’ problems with Social Security, Earle said. “Quite frankly, the longer we wait, the worse it will be for everyone,” he said. “The very fact that Social Security reform is called the ‘third rail’ of U.S. politics demonstrates the cowardice of most politicians: they’d rather wait for it to go bust than make hard choices before that point.”

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