Social Security: Older Workers in Physically Demanding Jobs at Risk

The Social Security retirement age, currently set at 67, is facing calls for further increase. However, according to a recent task force report from the National Academy of Social Insurance, this proposal may pose a challenge for older workers in physically demanding jobs. The report highlights the potential harm this could cause to economically vulnerable individuals who already struggle due to the existing retirement age increase.

Rebecca Vallas, a task force member and senior fellow at The Century Foundation, emphasized the need to understand the impact of the current retirement age increase before considering further changes. She stated during a presentation that raising the retirement age without addressing the damage caused to this specific group of workers would be irresponsible.

The 1983 Social Security reforms implemented gradually increasing the full retirement age, the age at which retirees can receive their full benefits. Individuals born in 1960 or later now have a full retirement age of 67, which was phased in from the previous age of 65.

While delaying Social Security retirement benefits is generally advised to receive higher payouts, workers in physically demanding jobs often face difficulties in adhering to this advice. Joel Eskovitz, director of Social Security and savings at the AARP Public Policy Institute and a task force member, noted that older workers in certain roles may struggle to continue working past the age of 62.

By claiming benefits early, you may receive reduced income checks that do not provide adequate income. Additionally, workers in physically demanding jobs often lack substantial retirement savings due to low wages and limited access to retirement plans or pensions through their employers.

The National Academy of Social Insurance’s task force report estimates that over 10 million older workers face physical demands in their jobs. This includes individuals working in warehouses, restaurants, and as home health aides. The task force universally agreed that raising the retirement age would further harm this economically vulnerable population.

To address these challenges, the task force suggested several policy changes. One proposal is the creation of a bridge benefit that would provide partial payments from the age of 62 to the full retirement age of 67 for workers unable to wait. The minimum benefit could also be raised to assist long-term low-wage workers who have not earned sufficient retirement benefits. Another recommendation is the introduction of partial early retirement benefits for older workers who reduce their hours.

The report further suggests revising the earnings test to align the U.S. with countries that impose smaller annual retirement income reductions for working individuals. Additionally, it highlights the need for Social Security disability benefit reform, improved services from the Social Security Administration, and enhancements to employment and training programs and unemployment insurance coverage for older workers.

These policy changes aim to support older workers in physically demanding jobs who face financial hardships due to the existing and potential increase in the Social Security retirement age. The report emphasizes the importance of considering these challenges and implementing targeted measures to ensure economic security for this vulnerable population.

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