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Of life spans and political misspeak


We're all living longer and are, in general, healthier than we used to be; ergo, we should save the sinking Social Security ship by pushing back the age of retirement.

That was the argument crafted earlier this week on CNBC's Squawk Box by Alice Rivlin, member of President Obama's deficit commission.

Not so fast, said Trudy Lieberman in The Columbia Journalism Review yesterday. While the average life span has grown, the bulk of the extra living has been done by wealthy men:

"Most of the increase in life expectancy in retirement has been among high income men," explained Monique Morrissey, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank focusing on the concerns of low and middle income Americans. She pointed me to a study (pdf) done by the Social Security Administration

Over the decades, the top earners got five more years of life expectancy, compared with only one year for those at the bottom - reflecting the widening disparities in the country. The Social Security study didn't look at women, but Morrissey told me that life expectancy for women hasn't grown as much as for men. Research shows that the general pattern appears to holds for women as well.

Raising the age of eligibility for benefits might not hurt those at the top of the economic ladder, Lieberman concludes, but it amounts to a pay cut for weaker earners.

Photo by Alex E. Proimos

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