Congress is debating the future of Social Security, so we must be very clear: Under no circumstances should the retirement age of the program be raised, nor should benefits be reduced for the people who count on them for a stable life in their golden years.

If you are one of those people — and most Americans are — there is reason to worry. Even as many Democrats and some Republicans pledge to leave Social Security alone, there are efforts underway to cut the program in the name of fiscal responsibility.

Simply put, that would be disastrous, both for individuals counting on Social Security for retirement and for our country as a whole.

One such proposal is reportedly being considered by a bipartisan group of senators led by Maine’s Angus King, an independent, and Republican Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. Last week, the news site Semafor reported that the plan would gradually raise the retirement age to 70, much as was done in 1983, when it was raised to 67 for workers born after 1959.

Some sort of reform is necessary. The program’s trust fund has enough revenue from payroll taxes to meet its commitments until 2035, when benefits would have to be cut by 20% to keep the books in the black.

Raising the retirement age certainly would remove a lot of that pressure. But for the average American, it would be disastrous.


The average yearly Social Security retirement benefit is modest — just under $22,000 in 2023. But it is often a senior’s only source of income: In Maine, less than 1 in 4 seniors receives money from other retirement sources, and nationwide, two-thirds of seniors would be in poverty if it weren’t for Social Security.

Raising the retirement age would force seniors to either stay in the workforce longer or accept a greatly reduced benefit by taking early retirement.

Neither choice is great. In fact, they wouldn’t even be choices.

Even if someone wants to work until 70 in order to get the full Social Security benefit, they may not get the chance. Older workers are more likely than others to be laid off. Many also experience physical and mental difficulties that make it hard to work, or they have to care for a spouse going through the same thing.

It would be worse for low-income and minority workers, whose shorter-than-average lifespans mean they would be giving up a large portion of their lifetime benefits and their time in retirement.

What would that mean in Maine, where many folks work in jobs that are hard on the body and can force early retirement, and where there are many older residents struggling to get by?


There are other ways to stabilize Social Security that don’t so carelessly hurt the people the program is supposed to help.

First, we should be honest about the scope of the problem. The gap facing Social Security may seem huge, but its shortfall amounts to just 1% of gross domestic product over the next 75 years — hardly a insurmountable hurdle for such an important program in a rich and prosperous country.

Rather than cutting into the benefits most Americans need to get by in their later years, Congress should raise the income cap, which limits the amount of income that can be taxed to fund the Social Security trust fund.

In 2023, that limit is $160,200, meaning that in many cases the richest Americans are paying a smaller portion of their income into the program than those living paycheck to paycheck.

Opponents argue that the tax increase from raising or eliminating the cap would harm the economy, and that it would force wealthier Americans to pay too much for a system they won’t get much out of.

But taxation needs to be given close consideration. Arguments against such targeted tax increases fail to value the benefits of Social Security even to those who don’t need the monthly checks — by keeping their neighbors out of poverty and allowing them financial security as they grow old.

More and more Americans are now barreling toward retirement age with little in the bank to show from years of hard work.

Raising the age for Social Security would just add to their uncertainty, and make their golden years decidedly less golden.

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