Don’t raise the retirement age
U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg’s recent comments on Social Security are not only factually inaccurate, but also badly out-of-touch with the pressing needs of New Hampshire workers and retirees.At St. Anselm’s College on May 17, Senator Gregg said that raising the Social Security retirement age would not have much of an impact on someone’s “lifestyle.”He must be referring to his own lifestyle, and not that of thousands of Granite Staters who work in physically demanding construction and service sector jobs.Asking them to wait until they are 70 to access Social Security is completely unrealistic. These men and women are already bearing the brunt of layoffs and benefit cuts from the recession, and raising the retirement age would inflict further hardship among a group of workers who are likely to face health and economic problems in their 60s.Many of us have seen our retirement savings wiped out by declining home values and the collapse in the stock market. Social Security is the only source of retirement income for one in four seniors. The average Social Security recipient receives only about $13,000 per year. That’s lunch money for an investment banker, but for many people on fixed incomes, that sum represents the difference between buying groceries and paying rent. We clearly need Social Security more than ever.Senator Gregg wants to cut Social Security to help bring down our national debt. No one likes the size of the debt, but the fact of the matter is that Social Security did not cause these deficits. The Social Security trust fund has built up a $2.5 trillion surplus over the last 25 years. The problem is, Washington keeps borrowing from the Trust Fund to finance all sorts of tax breaks for the wealthy, foreign wars, and other spending. Is our deficit too large? Yes. Is it caused by Social Security? No.Senator Gregg sits on the president’s Commission on Fiscal Responsibility, which was to meet again on May 26 to identify ways to reduce the deficit.How can we fully honor the promise of Social Security to those about to retire and to future generations? One solution is a minor tweak in the way Social Security is financed. Right now, you pay Social Security taxes on the first $106,800 you earn each year. That means that someone like Bill Gates is paying the same in Social Security taxes as someone earning $106,800. If we asked those earning over $1 million to pay a little more in Social Security taxes, the program’s future challenges would be solved.Such a proposal would truly not affect the lifestyle of many people, since the average man’s income in Concord is only $35,501 per year. In Dover, it’s $37,876 and in Nashua, it’s $43,893. The average woman earns significantly less.An even better solution would be to put New Hampshire residents back to work in good-paying jobs. Not only would that help our economy, but it would help the residents of our state and our nation better prepare for retirement.When Senator Gregg says that no one’s “lifestyle” will be changed by working three to six extra years, he clearly has not talked to the working people of New Hampshire.Charlie Balban is president of the New Hampshire Alliance For Retired Americans.