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Jeb Bush: raise the retirement age

GOP donors and plenty of pundits will probably swoon, but raising the retirement age is bad for the poor, whether Jeb Bush and Chris Christie realize it or not.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks to a group at a Politics and Pie at the Snow Shoe Club, April 16, 2015, in Concord, N.H. (Photo by Jim Cole/AP)
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks to a group at a Politics and Pie at the Snow Shoe Club, April 16, 2015, in Concord, N.H.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), looking for a way to break through in the Republican presidential race, announced his support for major "reforms" to social-insurance programs this week, including a call to raise the retirement age to 69.
In the larger political context, the question was whether -- and when -- the more competitive GOP candidates would follow suit. Now we know.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) said Friday that the national retirement age needs to be raised "in relatively short order." "I think we need to raise the retirement age, not for the people that already nearing -- receiving Social Security that are already on it [sic], but raise it gradually over a long period of time for people that are just entering the system," Bush said Friday during a speech in New Hampshire.

The Florida Republican didn't say, exactly, what the new retirement age would be under this vision, only that he'd like to see it happen soon.
All of this unfolded on video, which means that voters are likely to be reminded of this quote many times in the coming months, especially if Jeb Bush wins his party's nomination.
This policy position will no doubt please both Republican donors and many Beltway pundits who don't understand entitlement policy as well as they think they do, but let's not brush past the fact that raising the retirement age hurts the poor. Matt Yglesias had a good piece on this the other day, reflecting on Christie's remarks.

The key thing to know here is that most people actually begin collecting Social Security benefits at the "early" retirement age of 62 rather than at the full retirement age, which is currently 66 but rising to 67. People who retire at 62 rather than 66 get smaller checks from Social Security, but most Americans do it anyway, because they need the money, hate their job, or both. Christie's proposal isn't just to raise the "full" retirement age to 69; he also says, "We need to raise the early retirement age at a similar pace — raising it by two months per year until it reaches 64 from the current level of 62." In other words, Christie would actually change the age at which people start collecting benefits. As the average American's life expectancy at 60 is about 21 years, this means Christie is effectively proposing an across-the-board benefit cut of almost 10 percent in Americans' lifetime Social Security benefits. Except this is a particularly cruel and regressive form of cut, because life expectancy is longer for richer people. Inequality in life expectancy is also growing over time.

Economist Teresa Ghilarducci added this week, "Evidence shows that many older workers are simply not able to work past traditional retirement age without substantial suffering. Reducing their retirement income and throwing them off medical insurance will create a new cohort of impoverished elderly, reversing the tangible gains in reducing old age poverty made since the Great Depression."