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Is retiring early unpatriotic?

Want to do something truly patriotic to help preserve the American way of life?

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Don't retire. At least not yet.

That's the advice of Andrew Yarrow, vice president and director of the Washington, D.C., office of the nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization Public Agenda.

Yarrow urges the nation's 78 million baby boomers to forgo traditional or early retirement and work for a few more years, for their own sake and the good of the country.

If boomers all turn in their keys at age 55, 62 or 65 and head for the Tuscan hills, that great sucking sound you'll hear is untold amounts of taxpayer dollars being leached from the economy. That is money heirs will either have to replace or do without.

This idea of getting what's mine as soon as possible really doesn't think about future generations.

It's an act Yarrow calls "profoundly selfish and unpatriotic."

"The argument for working longer is not just about people working to pay more taxes; it's about people working to have more income and wealth themselves, to save for their own lives and their children and grandchildren," says Yarrow, who is also a professor of U.S. history at American University in Washington, D.C.

"This is an intergenerational issue," says the author of "Forgive Us Our Debts: The Intergenerational Dangers of Fiscal Irresponsibility."

"This idea of 'getting what's mine as soon as possible' really doesn't think about future generations."

Yarrow notes that when people work longer, they not only continue to pay taxes and produce additional goods and services to spur the economy, but also slow the growth of the national debt.

The debt currently stands at $9.3 trillion and is largely driven by rising Medicare and Social Security costs.

Today, the average retirement age is 62. If millions of Americans worked five more years and retired at 67, the added income would provide about $800 billion in additional tax revenues and reduce benefit costs by at least $100 billion in 2045, according to a 2006 Urban Institute study.

Elephant in the living room
Working longer would also be a gracious way to begin to deal with the elephant in our collective living room: the Social Security mess.

Back in 1935, when Congress passed the Social Security Act, the average U.S. life expectancy was 63, according to Yarrow. Today, the average life expectancy is 78, and if you make it through your 50s, you're likely to live into your 80s or beyond.

"If you retire at 62, you may live another third of your life in retirement," Yarrow says. "Maybe that's right for some people, but a lot of able-bodied Americans could contribute to their employer, their society, the economy, themselves and their children for at least a few more years."

Although the 1983 reforms by the Greenspan Commission gradually nudged up the age for full Social Security benefits by a year or two, our increasing longevity continues to dog the program.

I don't believe there is a meaningful life without work. You're not a whole person without work.

Economist and actor Ben Stein says a change is gonna come.

"That retirement date is for sure going to be pushed way, way later," says Stein, author of "Yes, You Can Still Retire Comfortably!"

"I wouldn't be surprised if in a few years that date were 70 years old, given the fact that people are more vigorous in their old age, generally speaking."

Stein also expects the cap on Social Security taxes to disappear.

"Wealthy people are going to pay much, much, much more tax," he says. "The 6 percent tax is not just going to stop at $90,000 (income), it's going to go up to $1 million or several million. That's going to affect this whole situation quite a lot."

 
 
Next: "We don't want to quit cold turkey."
Page | 1 | 2 |
 
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