Social Security retirement age should be raised

Americans are living longer and the Social Security system can't survive without changes.

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The age at which Social Security retirement benefits can be collected should eventually be raised to 70.

This move is a prudent way to ensure the Social Security system, created in 1935 as a safety net, will not fail.

A lot has changed in the 75 years since Social Security was enacted. For one thing, Americans are living longer -- an average of six years longer. And as our life expectancy continues to grow it puts a bigger strain on the Social Security system. In addition, the Baby Boomers, those born just after World War II, are now hitting retirement age.

Tweaks have already been made to the system and its retirement age. Social Security was created with a retirement age of 65. Today the full Social Security benefit retirement age is 66 and increases to 67 for those born in 1960 or after.

Social Security was designed as a safety net, not a pension plan. It's supposed to be there to supplement retirement incomes, not be the only retirement income.

There is an expectation individuals will plan for their own retirement.

Those who are able to accumulate enough wealth can stop working at any age. A change to the Social Security retirement age to 70 means only the safety net doesn't unfurl until retirees have reached that birthday.

To this point, members of Congress have taken on Social Security issues with caution because efforts to reduce entitlements have been seen as politically unacceptable.

But the voters -- Republicans and Democrats -- are now grasping the fiscal realities facing the Social Security system and the nation.

This has made it politically palatable to tinker with Social Security (at least as long as it doesn't impact those retiring in the next two decades).

"We're lying to ourselves and our children if we say we can maintain our current levels of entitlement spending, defense spending and taxation without bankrupting our country," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said recently. "We could and should consider a higher retirement age or one pegged to life span, more progressive Social Security and Medicare benefits, and a stronger safety net for the Americans who need it most."

House Republican Leader John Boehner backs raising the Social Security retirement age.

"Raising the retirement age -- going out 20 years and not affecting anyone close to retirement, and eventually getting the retirement age to 70 -- is a step that needs to be taken," Boehner said.

Later, in an interview on Fox News, he said, "I think it's time we have an adult conversation about the problems facing this country. Clearly, when it comes to Social Security, there's a problem. We made promises our kids and grandkids can't afford."

The resolve might not be as firm when a tangible plan is on the table and being debated. Nevertheless the willingness of congressional leaders to discuss and back the idea is an important and welcome step.

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