January 27, 2005

Fiddling With Retirement Ages

Edward Gramlich makes the liberal case for Social Security plus private accounts. If there was a possible universe in which Democrats could hope to see anything so rational come out of a compromise with the Bush administration, then I'd be advocating a compromise. But there is no such possible universe.

Meanwhile, Gramlich argues that raising the retirement age against wouldn't be too unfair to those with physically demanding jobs:
That's a bad rap. The retirement age would rise very slowly, about a year every decade. The main impact would be felt by workers in their 20s and 30s today. The share of workers who work in physically demanding occupations is falling every year and is going to be very low by the time they retire. I would still permit people to retire early and get reduced benefits. They're probably going to get a benefit cut, whatever happens.
The share of workers is falling? Er, depends what you mean by "physically demanding". Usually we think coal-mining, heavy manufacturing, that sort of burly stuff. But in an important sense, many service jobs are quite physically demanding. Waiting tables is physically demanding. Doing housekeeping at a hotel is physically demanding. Heck, standing at a cashier all day and absorbing a barrage of snarls and complaints is pretty physically demanding. I've done all those things before, and I found them exhausting, even as an able-bodied teenager. Obviously there's still a world of difference between that and heaving a pick-axe in a mineshaft all day, and I see Gramlich's point, but an extra year of housekeeping at the age of 68 is nothing to sniff at. (And no, I don't want to hear about how life was so much more strenuous back in the 1850s. Come on now.)

Speaking of which, I recently found this paper (PDF) by Jonathan Gruber and Courtney Coile suggesting that increasing incentives to work "would significantly reduce the exit rate of older workers from the labor force." That's something we should start looking into.
-- Brad Plumer 3:39 PM || ||