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Aging Benefits

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Apr 26, 2012    •    801 Views

When you combine better health care with generous pensions you get (choose one):

  • happy retirees
  • happy politicians
  • insufficiently funded national pension programs
  • the eurozone
  • the United States
  • other


To select an answer let’s begin with 1935. Just passed, the Social Security Act will start giving benefits to people 65 and older in several years. With 41.9 workers for every retiree in 1945 and 16.5 in 1950, the revenue source was more than sufficient. Moreover, life expectancy was 58 for men and 62 for women. (Adults who reached 21 did have a 50-60 percent chance of reaching 65 and beyond.)

Fast forward to 2012. The average man lives until approximately 76 and the average woman, 81. The worker retiree ratio for 2012 is 2.8. And as more baby boomers retire, it will get worse.

The Social Security Trustees just announced that because current workers’ checks could not cover retirees’ obligations, the system had a deficit during 2010, 2011 and probably for 2012. The good news is that they have a Trust Fund to cover deficits. The bad new is that the Trust Fund will probably be empty in 2033. That means benefits will have to plunge or taxes soar or the age of eligibility change. Or maybe the unexpected will occur and all will remain okay.

More daunting, in Europe, by age 55, more than one third of the population of all countries has retired except for Sweden, Denmark and Finland. You know the eurozone situation– huge pension obligations, free access to health care, retirement length averaging 13-20 years, and unemployment averaging 10.8 percent in February.

Returning to the quiz, what might you fill in for “other?”

You might want to look at this historical chart of worker beneficiary ratios since 1945, pp. 52-53 in Trustees 2012 report and at the chart of life expectancy for Social Security in one of their historical documents. For Europe, I got my statistics from this article which uses Eurostats as its source.

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