Nervous Republican incumbents can take comfort in President Trump’s fulfilled promise not to change Social Security. I don’t know if this was deliberate or coincidental, but House Speaker Paul Ryan (a huge fan of Social Security changes) was focused on the President’s agenda of tax cuts. That left no room for Ryan to propose Social Security changes. Ryan’s exit from the House, however, will leave some members continuing to support changing Social Security’s retirement program.
Let’s examine the two main arguments for change.
Top of the list is: people are living longer. This is true in some cases. But what is true in all cases is how our bodies age with the passing of years. A person at age 65 has a younger body than at age 70 or 75.
An older person is more subject to chronic conditions such as arthritis, as well as major conditions such as cancer.
Reason number two: people are working at older ages. Yes, they are, but sometimes they have no choice. If a person failed to save for retirement (e.g., they were saving for their children’s college education), got whacked in the Great Recession of 2008-2009 (e.g., home foreclosure), or both, they have to work today because Social Security does not provide enough income.
Thus, the proposal to raise the ‘normal retirement age’ (when a person receives full benefits) from 67 to age 70 punishes seniors. In my opinion, the Great Recession is reason enough to leave Social Security alone.
Further, as this recent Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco study indicates, the Great Recession resulted in a $70,000 loss per person over a lifetime.
It also says the U.S. economy continues to operate below capacity when compared to what our Gross Domestic Production (GDP) would have been without the Great Recession. Hint: if you find the text confusing, look at Figures 1 and 3, and note the dotted lines (what our economy would have been without the Great Recession). And read the final paragraph. Warning: it’s gloomy.
As I see it, our age-65-and-older population consists of three groups.
One group never makes it to age 70. These seniors are either morbidly obese and/or smokers. If they receive Social Security benefits, it’s only for a few years.
The second group succumbs to diseases such as cancer in their mid-seventies. They may receive benefits for about ten years. There’s a rule of thumb that states if a person lives past their mid-seventies, they are likely to live to age 90 and beyond.
That’s our third group – the people who get past the age 75 goal line.
Now let’s look at the younger cohorts. Notably, we have thousands of people who will never collect Social Security retirement benefits, due to death by drug and opioid addiction. Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report that estimated 72,000 people died of drug overdoses last year, with about 30,000 of those deaths due to opioids.
Digging deeper, the Kaiser Family Foundation’s report on age cohorts and opioid overdose deaths in 2016 puts all seniors in an age 55-plus category.
Although we can’t see the share of Social-Security-eligible people who died from opioid overdoses, Kaiser’s 55-plus category is around 20 percent. Split this number down the middle, and we have ten percent of the roughly 30,000 deaths (from 2017) involving Social Security-eligible people. This leaves about 27,000 people dying annually from opioids who will never collect benefits.
Candidate Trump was right to promise not to change Social Security retirement benefits. Why punish seniors for the Great Recession? Why base policies on fantasies about our bodies never aging, or how morbid obesity and opioid deaths reduce the Social Security-eligible population?
President Trump has delivered on his promise. This is a basic, grassroots issue that House and Senate members facing mid-term elections can and should proudly talk about.
Joanne Butler was a professional staff member (Republican) at the House Ways and Means Committee and served in President George W. Bush’s administration.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.