Black males would lose out in Senator Tom Colburn’s plan to gradually lift the age people can receive Social Security benefits to 70 years old.
The plan by Coburn, R-Oklahoma, is one of several proposals on the table as possible compromises on the debt ceiling crisis.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the life expectancy for black males at birth is 70 years. Based on that projection, black males who die at age 70 will have no opportunity to use Social Security benefits after contributing to the system all their lives.
Under current rules, the earliest retirement age to receive full Social Security benefits is 65 years old, if born in 1937 or before. For those born in 1960 or later, the retirement age for full benefits is 67 years old, with a sliding scale for those born in the years between.
Critics have long warned that raising the Social Security eligibility age would be unfair to black men. Nonetheless, tough decisions on Social Security and other federal programs are part of the debate as the White House and congressional Republicans struggle over a far-reaching compromise on federal spending and the debt limit.
Meanwhile, Social Security and Medicare combined cost the government $6.5 trillion a year. The Social Security Fund, in particular, is at risk of being depleted as the high rate of joblessness has less people putting money in while retiring baby boomers continue to take money out.
President Barack Obama has also proposed an increase, but only to age 67. A March report from the Congressional Budget Office supports raising the qualifying age to 67 and indicates it would save the government $124.8 billion by 2021.
Still, many Democrats are unwilling to have the sacred cows of the entitlement programs cut so drastically and are asking for a balance, including tax increases on the income of the wealthiest Americans and scaling back of Bush era tax cuts.
“We should not force our most vulnerable communities to shoulder the responsibility for the crisis by cutting critical social programs that meet basic needs and provide essential services to our citizens,” Congressional Black Caucus President Emanuel Cleaver II said in a statement. “Over 50% of Medicaid’s beneficiaries are children, and over 40% of African Americans over the age of 65 rely on Social Security as their sole source of income. Significant cuts to these programs will have a detrimental effect on hard-working American families.”
Despite this message, the writing is on the wall that in order to breach a compromise, the president is leaning toward a solution that includes an increase in eligibility age.
When Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, tried to rally support for a his plan to radically redesign Social Security along the lines of IRA accounts, he acknowledged that raising the qualifying age would shortchange many African Americans.
In a 2005 private meeting with black religious and business leaders who had supported his reelection, Bush said many black Americans would end up contributing more to Social Security than they would ever enjoy in benefits, based on estimates of life expectancy.