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What Is the Best Age to Retire/Collect Social Security Benefits in the United States?
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Photo: flickr.com/Marco Verch

What Is the Best Age to Retire/Collect Social Security Benefits in the United States?

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This is a question many people have, and to be truthful, many people just cannot afford to retire.

I recently discussed this with a friend who works in the Social Security Administration, in Baltimore, Maryland, asking what my best options were. I had recently had a medical examination, and the test results had not been good, especially the ones for blood, kidney function and other so-called indicators of good health and expectation for a long life (I will not bore you with the details).

Naturally the MD told me that everything was reversible, provided I change my eating habits and lifestyle. That did not seem so bad, until I went to the doctor and faced the reality of having to take a bunch of prescribed pills — to improve my less than pristine test results — for the rest of my natural life.

As my friend at Social Security wrote me, ‘It is up to you, it depends if you need the money and your health. If you need it, take it at age 62. If not you can wait, but based on your health, I would take it at age 62.’

Seeing how many older Americans are still working, 65 and older, it is apparently not a matter of choice but economic necessity to work until you drop dead, or at least become physically too old for gainful employment.

According to the National Academy of Social Insurance, which has lots of interesting articles on the topic, the Social Security Retirement Age depends on not only your chronological age but your individual circumstances.

Social Security's full-benefit retirement age is gradually increasing, because of legislation passed by Congress in 1983. Traditionally, the full benefit age was 65, with early retirement benefits first available at age 62, taken with a permanent reduction to 80 percent of the full benefit amount. Currently, the full benefit age is 66 years and 2 months for people born in 1955, and it will gradually rise to 67 for those born in 1960 or later.

Early retirement benefits will continue to be available at age 62, but they will be reduced more. When the full-benefit age reaches 67, benefits taken at age 62 will be reduced to 70 percent of the full benefit, and benefits first taken at age 65 will be reduced to 86.7 percent of the full benefit.

Thus there is a financial bonus for delayed retirement, but that does not apply to most of us, at least among the working class.  The crux of the matter is that many people in the US, especially amongst the poor and minorities, will never live long enough to collect full benefits because of health and socio-economic factors that affect the quality of our lives and how long we live.

A quoted report that should be more widely read, describes how this is becoming ever more “evident with the expected life spans of today's workers, given that low-income Americans are projected to die on average as 13 years earlier than their wealthier cohort.”

It is interesting to see, based on the same research, that a century ago rich and poor had almost identical lifespans. Why the difference is the big question, and this needs more reflection in the economic and social reality as now exists in the US, as discussed in a previous article in USA Really about the nexus between health and wealth.

Americans should not be upset that the government is raising the retirement age, and making it more difficult to obtain disability at earlier ages, even when a person is qualified. They should be more concerned that the system is inherently rigged against lower income workers, the poor and those who were not dealt the best hand in terms of genetics and life expediency.

The same debate is going on in Russia now. Recently there were proposals to increase the retirement age and raise pension ages simply to bolster state finances. Though the World Bank says average life expectancy in Russia was 71 as of 2016, up from 65 in 2003, the Russian government says the rise puts a burden on the pension fund that necessitates raising the retirement ages.

In response to criticism, Putin proposed that the pension age for women be increased from 55 to 60, instead of the 63 years proposed by parliament and that for men from 60 to 65. But one thing Russians will get angry about is such a suggestion, and the proposal was short lived.

Many Americans also know that most of them will not live long enough to collect retirement. Payout is based on life expectancy, and there is really no advantage in waiting on a larger payout. Only if you don’t need money now, and really expect to live longer and acquire more money, should you wait.

I have hope for a longer life, but my income and lifestyle give me a stress level which works against me. Both my parents lived to be 90 years of age, and lots of ancestors peaked at 100. I suspect the average for my immediate family, the direct lines, going back four or five generations is around 85. But only God knows if I will emulate them, or whether it even helps if you try to live right, and stay away from all those bad things they say will kill us and diminish quality of life. 

Even Donald Trump realizes that retirement is an issue that concerns many of his supporters. He is due to sign an executive order aimed at making it easier for small businesses to group together to provide their workers with retirement plans, as social research shows that many American workers are worried about being able to live comfortably in retirement.

But one of the main factors which should be considered in any decision is the relationship (correlation) between genetic background and overall lifestyle in determining an individual’s chance of a delayed aging (one possibly without age-related diseases and disabilities) and lifespan-longevity.

We know all the things that are bad for us, what we should eat and what our lifestyle should be, but at the end of the day it is all about how we feel about ourselves—whether we are in a normal family relationship, and whether we have social networks and feel ourselves to have value.

In short, we need to know what purpose we have for living and wanting to take better care of ourselves. It is not only about how long we can expect to live, and stay healthy enough to earn a living wage, as most people, especially the middle class, are not benefiting from the so-called economic boom in America.

They simply don’t have dividends, stocks and discretionary income to even put aside. The situation is much different in Western countries, where societies are more equal, there are social safety nets and more respect is given to the older generation.

But all that is a moot issue for those living in countries such as the US, Russia and much of the Third World. It is about when can we afford to retire, in the absence of money set aside in private retirement accounts and properties.

Most of us in our old age even die in debt. So, if you want to live long, plan, don’t dig yourself a debt grave, and stay married, close to your family and friends — and finally, stay clear of doctors, as if you don’t have an ailment or terminal disease, they will find one that will fit the bill.

Author: Jeffrey Silverman