Introduction, A New Deal for Old Age: Toward a Progressive Retirement
Introduction, A New Deal for Old Age: Toward a Progressive Retirement (Harvard University Press, 2016).
19 Pages Posted: 21 Jul 2016 Last revised: 26 Jul 2016
Date Written: March 1, 2016
As America’s haves and have-nots drift further apart, rising inequality has undermined one of the nation’s proudest social achievements: the Social Security retirement system. Unprecedented changes in longevity, marriage, and the workplace have made the experience of old age increasingly unequal. For educated Americans, the traditional retirement age of 65 now represents late middle-age. These lucky ones typically do not face serious impediments to employment or health until their mid-70s or even later. By contrast, many poorly educated earners confront obstacles of early disability, limited job opportunities, and unemployment before they reach age 65.
America’s system for managing retirement is badly out of step with these realities. Enacted in the 1930s, Social Security reflects a time when most workers were men who held steady jobs until retirement at 65 and remained married for life. The program promised a dignified old age for rich and poor alike, but today that egalitarian promise is failing. This introductory chapter to A NEW DEAL FOR OLD AGE outlines a progressive program that would permit all Americans to retire between 62 and 76 – but would offer more generous benefits for early retirement for workers with low wages and physically demanding jobs. The chapter also sketches the case for a more equitable version of the outdated spousal benefit and a new phased-retirement option to permit workers to transition out of the workforce gradually.
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