Advocates for raising the age at which workers can collect Social Security and Medicare are rarely people who get their hands dirty on the job.
For instance, the Business Roundtable, a group of CEOs from 200 of the country's largest businesses, recently urged that eligibility for Medicare be raised from 65 to 70 and Social Security's full retirement age be raised from 67 to 70. The CEOs said moving eligibility upward in this way would save Medicare $300 billion over the next 10 years and $6 trillion over the next 25 years. Raising the full retirement age for Social Security to 70 would keep the program fully funded for another 75 years with no other changes.
These proposals sound good, but they don't take into account some workplace realities.
The ratio of fatal accidents in the construction industry is 25 per 100,000 workers age 65 and older. That's up from fewer than 15 fatal accidents per 100,000 workers younger than age 65, according to a study of data collected between 2008 and 2010 by the Center for Construction Research and Training and the construction trade magazine Engineering News-Record, or ENR. The highest number of fatalities occurs among workers between the ages of 50 and 59, ENR calculates.
ENR also cites a study from the University of Colorado, indicating that the average total cost of a worker's compensation injury claim for a 65-year-old is triple that of a 24-year-old. The study didn't quantify why that's true, but it doesn't seem like a big leap to conclude that an injured older worker requires more treatment to heal.
Figuring out a way to put Social Security and Medicare on more stable financial ground is vitally important for everyone's retirement planning, but doing it on the backs of those who work at some of the most physically demanding jobs isn't the right approach. Those workers need the right to choose retirement before they are unable to work safely.