Retirement

While French Workers Strike To Protect Their Pensions U.S. Elders Fear More Social Security Cuts

French Workers Outrage Over Pension Cuts

Yesterday, French workers amped up their protest over President Macron’s proposal to cut pensions by raising the retirement age from 62 to 64. Two-thirds of French school teachers went out on strike. Striking transit workers required 75% of trains and 25% of planes trips to be cancelled and striking energy workers cut electricity to 80% of normal.

Comparing U.S. and French Treatment of Elders

There’s so much attention this week over France’s proposal to raise its retirement age to 64 from age 62, it’s time to compare the U.S. retiree situation with that of the French. The U.S. expects workers to work more than any other nation in the group of rich nations in the O.E.C.D. (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development). France has one of the lowest lengths of life time work. Already Americans work more and have less retirement than workers in most wealthy nations.

Since the maximum benefit age for Social Security is age 70, the U.S signals a work-life norm of 48 years for college graduates who start work at age 22 and 52 years for people who started work at 18. Norway, Italy, and Israel have target work lives between 44 and 45 years, while France and Greece have target working lives under 40 years.

The U.S. has among the highest elder poverty rates – about 1 out of 4 (23.1%) older Americans are poor (Mexico beat us at 26%, but even South Africa has a lower elder poverty rate than the United States). In stark contrast, France has one of the lowest rates of elder poverty, barely 4 out of 100 (4.4%).

Remaining life expectancy at 65 obviously and significantly contributes to well-being at older ages and the French have us beat there too. French women after age 65 can expect to live 11% longer than their American counterparts and French men 5% longer than American men.

American Older Workers Need to Retire

As in most industrial nations, Older Americans cannot practically work full time or even part time after a certain age. Many American workers are pushed out of the labor market before they want to and work lives become unsteady after age 52. Beth Truesdale and Lisa Berkman found only about 50% of workers are continuously employed throughout their years between ages 52 – 62. Early retirement is an all-too-common last resort, and involuntary retirements increase the risk of depression and downward mobility.

U.S. Naval Academy Professor Michael Insler found that retirement improves health significantly for Americans, preventing almost one-quarter of a doctor-diagnosed conditions, “such as diabetes, or various fractions of other ailments.” Retirement is beneficial because retirees take better care of themselves. For example, retirees take more effort to quit smoking.

America needs to treat its older workers better and by extension their promise to be able to retire. History tells us that democratic governments respond when their people rise-up.

Protest Leads to Protection

Mine Workers, Teamsters, and others staged protests for years over their pensions being cut in half or more until Congress passed the Butch Lewis act protecting their pensions earned over 30 years.

While the French take to the streets, Americans worry about outliving their money and tell stories of kindly strangers raising money on GOFundMe Accounts so they can retire.

Until American voters and workers show the kind of unity and outrage the French workers show when their government aims to cut pensions American politicians will continue to push for Social Security retirement ages to be raised to age 70 or older.

Until American workers unite to improve pensions, it will be normal that millions of Americans approaching retirement age do so with no savings.

If we do nothing the U.S. will be in the awkward and embarrassing position of being a world power with sky-high senior poverty rates and small periods of retirement.

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