Opinion

Why a Gen Y guy is begging to raise his Social Security retirement age

With a down economy, the majority of the Millennial generation has nothing saved for retirement. But they’re also most at risk for not getting Social Security payments later in life. Raising the retirement age would help ensure that something is left for them.

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On my 50th birthday in 2030, probably hours before a cliché party with black balloons, I will join AARP, the American Association of Retired Persons, whose members must be beyond the half-century mark. That is, if the lobbying giant and Social Security defender has anything left to do for me. It seems wiser to form my own organization now, perhaps The American Association of Young Persons Who Want to Retire Someday, Too.

At this point, I have little hope of having returned to me even a shred of the Social Security money currently taken from my wife and me. In a break from its historically staunch position on keeping the early and regular Social Security benefit ages at 62 and 66 respectively, even AARP came out this June with an acknowledgment that reforms are needed.

The fiscal fact of the matter is: The Social Security collection age needs to be raised if there’s going to be something left for my wife and me.

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No need to reprint here the well-known details of Social Security’s parlous future, only that the government has enough money to pay full benefits until 2036, when I’m 55. And of course, as with other forecasts on US government debt, it is highly likely that this prediction will change in the unseemly direction.

Born in 1980, it’s not at all unlikely that I could live into my late eighties or early nineties. If the age of minimal Social Security collection were raised to 69, I could very well be returned some of my sheared wages for 20 to 25 years.

After finishing a PhD in 2009, I couldn’t find an academic teaching job in the United States. I took a position at The American University in Cairo for two years and, due to the income-tax free wages I earned abroad, was happily able to pay down student loan debt and intensively save for retirement.

But not even absconding in Cairo can free Americans from Social Security and Medicare taxes. I paid into the same Ponzi bonfire that other thirty-something-and-younger Americans tragically toss their cash into. One financial advisor recently told me to “save like Social Security doesn’t exist. If there’s anything left for you, spoil your grandkids with it.”

As a university professor, I admit that I have a good setup. The academic’s quality of life and job flexibility are worth gold, but the salary is more like pewter, and I will likely need Social Security benefits to make my retirement work. I’m not alone, either.

My generation (Millennials or Generation Y) has come into the workforce at a tough time. Unemployment for people in their twenties is twice the national average. In part because of the poor economy and our entry-level place in it, most Millennials have little saved for retirement and many have a hard time doing anything but living from paycheck to paycheck.

A recent CNBC article cited the sobering results of a Scottrade study out this spring: The majority (55 percent) of Gen Yers surveyed said that they hadn’t started saving for retirement yet and an alarming 73 percent of them have less than $25,000 saved for retirement.

At the same time, my generation is more worried about Social Security running out and having to work in retirement just to pay their living expenses (38 percent of them) than any other generation. In our current state, we’re most in need of Social Security payments in retirement, but we’re also the most at risk for not getting them.

Raising the early Social Security benefit age from 62 to 64 or 65 and regular retirement age from an average age of 66 to 69 or 70 would save hundreds of billions of dollars over the next 10 years and could help reduce US debt by trillions over the next several decades. Certainly, more reforms will be needed to make the program solvent, but raising the benefit age for healthy, working Americans is one obvious and easy way to help ensure that my generation isn’t left out in the cold.

I’m filing this dispatch from St. Petersburg, a known retiree heaven where my parents live. I’m glad there’s money left now in the Social Security coffers for my folks. When the economy fell apart, they had no lavish real estate or cars they couldn’t afford, and fiscally responsible Americans like them keep the US semi-solvent. Their dues to the national kitty have been paid. I think I’m entitled, though, to the same payout system they supported, and I’m willing to accept checks that come a bit later and slightly smaller, which is better than no check and an empty apology.

I hear baby boomer politicians in Washington all the time discussing the need for Americans to sacrifice for the public good, but so far no segment of the population has responded with feeling. Well, I’m willing to sacrifice by retiring later in life, in return for a more believable promise that I’m not being swindled.

Justin D. Martin is the CLAS-Honors Preceptor of Journalism at the University of Maine and a columnist for Columbia Journalism Review. Follow him on Twitter: @Justin_D_Martin

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