FREE NEWSLETTER

Can’t Go On

Dennis Friedman, 12:42 pm ET

WHEN I WAS IN HIGH school, I had a summer job at a machine shop. My job was to deburr large cutting tools known as end mills. I would take a penny and run it over the cutting edge of the tool to smooth it out. Once I finished my job, the tools were sent to another facility for the next operation.

There was a young man in his 20s named Max whose job was to load these heavy boxes of tools onto a truck and transport them to the other facility, where he would unload them. He would do this all day long until one day he never came back from lunch.

I was excited to get Max’s job because I’d just got my driver’s license and I got to drive a truck for the first time. It didn’t take long for reality to set in. I got my first taste of what hard manual labor was like. I spent the rest of the summer soaking my aching body in a warm bath after work.

I was lucky to spend most of my adult life working behind a desk. Not everyone gets to do that. More than 10% of all workers nationally hold physically demanding jobs. In 2002, 29% of workers ages 55 to 60 said they experienced chronic pain in their jobs.

There have been discussions in Congress about how to keep Social Security solvent, including raising the full retirement age to 70. This doesn’t seem fair to laborers who do hard work. Their declining bodies makes it difficult to work longer. In addition, they usually start working relatively young and hence spend more years paying into Social Security.

I admit I don’t have a solution to this conundrum—one that would be fair to all workers. But I know raising the full retirement age isn’t the right answer.

Browse the Blog

Subscribe
Notify of
9 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
ishabaka
ishabaka
7 months ago

I had just finished by second year of college and wasn’t sure I wanted to finish, when I got a summer job in a factory that made leaf springs for cars. It was hot, my feet hurt every day from standing on a concrete floor for 9 hours, and the boss was an alcoholic who’d pick one worker to scream at for an hour every day. Made me realize finishing college was worth it.

parkslope
parkslope
7 months ago
Reply to  ishabaka

I had a similar eye opening experience working a summer job in a hot factory on an assembly line that made car door arm rests.

John Wood
John Wood
7 months ago

The Social Security “solvency issue” is a problem of political will, not an economic problem. For 2021, $142,800 of wages is the maximum amount of earned income that one is taxed on. Have every dollar of income taxed (as it is with Medicare), and the amount of additional contribution that will accrue will let the workers who wore out their bodies for income retire at 66 or 67 with no risk to the program’s solvency. The supply-chain bottlenecks we’re seeing today have a lot to do with the lack of people willing to take on physical jobs. The economy needs these workers badly, and they deserve a fair deal.

Philip Stein
Philip Stein
7 months ago

I’m not sure I would dismiss raising the retirement age. We all know that Social Security in it’s current form is under financial stress mainly due to people living longer lives than previous generations.

Don’t those workers who suffer physical decline from a lifetime of manual labor get support from the Social Security Disability program?

Roboticus Aquarius
Roboticus Aquarius
7 months ago
Reply to  Philip Stein

Being on SSDI isn’t a picnic, the restrictions and assumptions behind it are very bare bones. The admins make plenty of mistakes, and it takes months to rectify them. It’s not something I’d want to depend on, frankly (I have family on SSDI.) Plus there are a lot of people who have damaged bodies that are difficult to distinguish from simple aging, but often work conditions exacerbated their decline. These people will simply not be able to work, and not be eligible for SSDI.

It’s also about the size of the generations. Since SS is actually a wealth transfer tax that’s designed to appear like an annuity/pension, the number of people supporting each retiree is important, so the ratio is also influenced by the number of people working.

Anyways, many of us of similar age have had our pensions yanked away or decimated, and while it’s always wrong to backtrack on a promise, I think it’s really wrong to now backtrack on SS promises of any kind. Reset expectations for those not in the workforce, sure (but then you have to wait a long time for the improvement in SS Finances.)

Last edited 7 months ago by Roboticus Aquarius
Ormode
Ormode
7 months ago

Many guys manage to move up the chain. They may start out as a carpenter or a journeyman electrician, but by the time they reach 40 they’re contractors with other guys working for them.
Of course, most don’t have the skills needed to do this.

Ron Sheldon
Ron Sheldon
7 months ago

An alternative to raising the full retirement age to 70 is to increase the number of years worked and paid into Social Security incrementally each 3 or more years from the current 35 highest wage/pay growth adjusted years to the 37 highest years, then highest 39, 41, 43, 45, 47, 49, 50, etc.

In that manner, those who begin full time work and paying into Social Security at a younger age, perhaps at 17 or 18, typically with lower earnings, get more credit for those early years. Contrast that to the person who goes on to higher education, obtains a degree or degrees, starts working and paying into Social Security at 24 to 28, but typical with higher earnings.

At age 62 the person who started full time work and paying into Social Security at 18 would have 44 years of income earnings, adjusted as today for changes in wage growth over the years, for their Social Security benefit calculation. However, the person who started full time work and paying into Social Security at 26 would have 36 years of income wage growth adjusted earnings for their Social Security benefit calculation.

I believe modest, incremental changes in various aspects of Social Security formulae could do a lot to close the Social Security contribution funding versus benefit pay out gap to obtain solvency while maintaining or increasing equity. Also, the gradual introduction of TSP L fund type investments of excess Social Security contributions, if that every comes about again, in a true hands off Trust Fund might also become a major contributor towards long term Social Security solvency. The problem seems to me to be more of concentrating on only one aspect or another of Social Security, like increasing the full retirement age to 70, COLA adjustment, bend points, etc. instead of modest incremental changes to all the various factors that go into determining individual Social Security benefits at what age, with what adjustments, and with what factual considerations to obtain and maintain solvency.

Could it be that our Congressional representatives cannot think past their desires to favor this or that ill defined group to help them be reelected. How many of those representative and the general population, for that matter, actually understand Social Security’s inner workings and become involved in crafting realistic, balanced, objective and statically validated solutions.

There usually is no situation that can not be improved or problem overcome with full, honest understanding of the matter and open, factual discussion of changes and alternatives and realistic reasoning instead our current R versus D, and C versus L or P, ideological and emotional ranting, political posturing and fearmongering. A lot less tribalism, ideology, poor me-ism and “positions”, and much more fact based honesty all around could do wonders for this country, in my opinion.

My rant for the day, week or, maybe, this month.

parkslope
parkslope
7 months ago
Reply to  Ron Sheldon

My personal preference would be to make the FRA lower for physically demanding jobs. That would be controversial and difficult to implement, but something needs to be done, and the demands in most jobs are such that most people can work until they are 70.

Last edited 7 months ago by parkslope
Ron Sheldon
Ron Sheldon
7 months ago
Reply to  parkslope

That could be an approach but, as you say, difficult to implement. Also, consider how something like that could apply if an individual works a physically demanding job for 10 or 12 years, changes career once or several times and works at jobs that aren’t physically demanding. I think something like that would really get too deep into the weeds rather than somethings like I suggest.

There are actuaries, statisticians and others with the knowledge and technical skills to crack the Social Security solvency nut if we could every get past our societal tribalism, fixed ideologies, poor me-ism and political “positions”, and much more to deal with this and so many other important issues factually, honestly without all the hyperbole, ranting, screaming and fearmongering that so quickly seems to develop before enough people make the effort to learn, understand and actually think rather than react. Of course, we may have to mandate vaccinations against ignorance first..

Free Newsletter

SHARE