Reports from the Economic Front

a blog by Marty Hart-Landsberg

Work Until You Drop

There is increasing talk among politicians about the desirability of raising the social security retirement age. 
The “normal retirement age,” which is the age when you can collect full retirement benefits, was set at 65 in 1940.  It remained that way until 1983, when Congress decided to raise it in two month increments beginning with people born in 1938.  People born after 1959 now have a normal retirement age of 67.  
With false claims of social security insolvency being thrown around, pressure is building to raise the age again, perhaps to 70 years. 
What would that mean for working people?
Hye Jin Rho of the Center for Economic and Policy Research has done an interesting study looking into the employment situation of older workers.  He combined data on worker occupations/demographics from the 2009 Current Population Survey with 2010 data from the Occupational Information Network (OIN) database which classifies jobs according to their occupational requirements. 

Rho, following other researchers, uses the OIN to highlight jobs that can be considered to be “physically demanding” or have “difficult working conditions.”  Physically demanding jobs include those that require “dynamic strength, explosive strength, static strength, trunk strength, bending or twisting, kneeling or crouching, quick reaction time, or gross body equilibrium” or more general sustained physical activity such as “handling and moving objects, or demand workers to spend significant time standing, walking and running, or making repetitive motions.”

Difficult working conditions are those that involve “cramped workspace, labor outdoors (exposed to the weather or covered) or indoors in not environment-controlled conditions, or exposure to abnormal temperatures, contaminants, hazardous conditions, hazardous equipment, or distracting or uncomfortable noise.”

Rho found that of the 18.8 million workers who are 58 or older (in 2009), over 45.3 percent have physically demanding jobs and/or difficult working conditions.  The older the worker cohort, the higher the percentage.  For example, for those 58-61 years of age the percentage is 44.5.  For those 66-69 years of age the percentage is 45.8.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the lower the income level, the higher the percentage of older workers with physically demanding jobs and/or difficult working conditions.  Almost 65 percent of workers 58 or older in the bottom income quintile have physically demanding jobs and/or difficult working conditions. 
Social security is not in crisis—yet, we have political and business leaders advocating an extension of the normal retirement age that can only be described as punitive.   Many workers will be unable to work long enough, given the nature of their jobs, to actually draw their full retirement benefits—but I guess that is the point for those out to destroy social security. 

What an indictment of our system–we produce incredible wealth and yet those with power are unwilling to allow workers a well-earned retirement.   

One response to “Work Until You Drop

  1. Victor September 29, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    It is pretty sad how it keeps on getting pushed back, with my mother being affected by the changes. Kind of surprising that so many difficult jobs are being done by those who are on the older end of the work scale. However, you are right, the effect of income is not that surprising.

    Pushing it to 70 years, although only follows with the way it has crept up, seems way too old to me.


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