Try the new, improved Hartford Courant digital edition today
CT Now

Cutting Social Security benefits won't revive the GOP [Letter]

Commentator Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. suggests raising the qualifying age for Social Security to 70 because "we are living much longer than originally envisioned; our benefits should reflect this fact of life" ("Nine ideas to revive the Republican Party," Feb. 9).

First of all, there is ample evidence that in 1935, when Social Security launched, the actuaries of the Roosevelt administration knew full well that life expectancy at age 65 would gradually extend. So Mr. Ehrlich is simply wrong on his history.

As to policy, here are the facts: Americans who reach age 65 today have a life expectancy of about 19 more years, to age 84. People aged 65 when Social Security started had a life expectancy then of about 14 more years, to age 79. So we've had a modest improvement of five years. But does this five-year average improvement in life expectancy justify moving back the retirement age by five years?

Not if you look closer.

We know that the top half of U.S. wage earners today have a life expectancy at age 65 that is at least five years longer, to age 87, than the bottom half of earners, who at age 65 can expect to live on average to 82 — very little more than the average American of the 1930s. It turns out life's pretty hard on you when you don't make a lot, and the less you make, the harder it is.

So for those people who need Social Security the most, the impact on them of following Mr. Ehrlich's suggestion would be disproportionately awful — it would represent a cut in the total years' benefits received from the program from the current 17 years to 12. That's a reduction of almost 30 percent.

If the size of the U.S. economy per American citizen — per capita GDP — had shrunk by 30 percent since 1935, you might be able to argue that such a cut was justified, assuming public indifference to the plight of old folks who've gone without much. But the size of U.S. GDP per capita has actually increased from 1935's $586 per person to $53,548 in 2013.

Why would a serious student of policy, as Mr. Ehrlich presents himself, suggest that an economy that has grown per capita by a factor of 90 can no longer afford to give retirees a Social Security benefit that we could afford even in the depths of the Depression in 1935?

Either Mr. Ehrlich is actually unacquainted with the facts, or he has decided that defending the owners of the American economy from the taxes required to provide this support to U.S. citizens in their old age is a higher priority for him.

To put it bluntly, what side of this issue you choose to come down on really depends on whom you are for: the relative few people who own the U.S. economy, or the people who do all the work here.

In my father's time (he was a member of "the Greatest Generation"), these groups were much the same. But owing to the past 30 years of wealth concentration, declining middle-class wages and standards of living, that is no longer true.

There is nothing in demographics or economics to support raising the retirement age, and Mr. Ehrlich and his political party should smarten up and stop their repeated attempts to lower the value of this popular and necessary benefit.

John Fries, Catonsville

-
To respond to this letter, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, CT Now
Related Content
  • American values under Obama

    American values under Obama

    Two columns ago, I passed on a series of political observations from the heartland. Today, a snapshot of American values and viewpoints a decade and a half into the "new" millennium.

  • Ehrlich too negative, too partisan

    Ehrlich too negative, too partisan

    Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s cocky and aggressive partisanship make it evident why he couldn't govern effectively in Annapolis and was not re-elected for a second term ("Why Obama is viewed as weak," Nov. 30).

  • Ehrlich rants an embarrassment

    Ehrlich rants an embarrassment

    Not quite 10 years ago when I moved to Baltimore from a D.C. suburb, I made the decision to switch from The Washington Post to The Baltimore Sun for my daily news read. Ever since, I have had the paper delivered to my home on a daily basis. Even as it has gone down hill in content over that time....

  • Middle class value claims are a 'joke' [Commentary]

    Middle class value claims are a 'joke' [Commentary]

    It's the political season, which explains another column of "Things That Bug Me." Herewith my latest list for your consideration:

  • Respect the power of the pardon [Commentary]

    Respect the power of the pardon [Commentary]

    "[O]ne man appears to be a more eligible dispenser of the mercy of government, than a body of men."

  • Why Obama is viewed as weak

    Why Obama is viewed as weak

    Two recent Presidential pronouncements reflect the essential Barack Obama. Each also explains why so many view him to be the weakest of American presidents.

  • Unforced errors or tactical mistakes?

    Unforced errors or tactical mistakes?

    Political pundits like to label gratuitous political gaffes as "unforced errors" — mistakes that come out of right field without warning or reason.

  • Ehrlich's 'cult of anti-Obamaism'

    Ehrlich's 'cult of anti-Obamaism'

    Though I am 1960s retread boomer and unrepentant liberal who usually disagrees commentator Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., I read his column regularly. No surprise that he recently panned Obamacare — again — but what I never hear from Republicans is the Plan B, i.e., how we deal with the 40 million Americans...

Comments
Loading
86°