How Social Security Screws People With Physically Arduous Jobs

A blog about business and economics.
Sept. 18 2013 3:54 PM

How Social Security Screws People With Physically Arduous Jobs

Kathleen Casey-Kirschling files for her Social Security retirement benefits online as Michael Astrue, commissioner of the Social Security Administration, stands nearby during a news conference on Oct. 15, 2007, in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

People often talk about "the retirement age" at which you can start receiving Social Security benefits, but the current version of the Social Security Act actually allows you to start collecting benefits as soon as age 62 or as late as age 70. The longer you delay, the higher your monthly check. That raises a couple of questions—is it smart to delay taking benefits? And if it is smart, do people actually do it?

John Shoven and Sita Nataraj Slavov have an interesting new paper on all this. They show that it is smart to delay taking your benefits and that thanks to some policy changes from the late 1990s and early 2000s, delaying is smarter than ever. They also show that people who've retired after 2000 are more likely to delay benefits than people who retired earlier. But nevertheless, "even in the younger cohort, most individuals still claim benefits soon after turning 62" and there is "no evidence of a relationship between the probability of delay and the individual characteristics (e.g., gender, race, or health status) that affect the gains from delay."


All of which is to say that many people are retiring when they're 62 or 63 even though the lifetime financial benefits to delaying another year or two or three could be quite large. This dynamic builds a number of subtle inegalitarian features into the system. Basically if you have a physically arduous job that's hard to keep doing into your 60s, you end up paying a financial penalty on top of the physical costs.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.



More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

Yes, Black Families Tend to Spank More. That Doesn’t Mean It’s Good for Black Kids.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

The Best Way to Organize Your Fridge


The GOP’s Focus on Fake Problems

Why candidates like Scott Walker are building campaigns on drug tests for the poor and voter ID laws.

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

Farewell! Emily Bazelon on What She Will Miss About Slate.

  News & Politics
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 6:23 PM Bryan Cranston Reenacts Baseball’s Best Moments to Promote the Upcoming Postseason
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Sept. 16 2014 4:09 PM It’s All Connected What links creativity, conspiracy theories, and delusions? A phenomenon called apophenia.
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.