Social Security is not a gift. When signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the summer of 1935, it was a part of the New Deal that helped save the nation from internal destruction, and its purpose was to provide a measure of protection for elderly people who had worked all their lives. And in so doing, it would provide a safety net not only for them but for the health of the national economy.
Workers and employers fund the system, though it's true that Social Security is indeed in trouble as a result of basic math: more outgo than income. Families are smaller, and there are not enough younger workers to fund the support of upcoming retirees.
And so the country's political leaders now find themselves in the midst of what has been a periodic debate when the system has hit a crisis: Should the retirement age be raised, perhaps to 70, to "save" Social Security for future generations?
The debate is being held largely among members of Congress (and their staffs), the vast majority of whom don't need Social Security as their financial anchor in old age, as many Americans truly do. And they're people who often wouldn't mind working until or past 70, as they're not breaking rocks in the hot sun, metaphorically speaking.
But as The New York Times notes in an article carried in yesterday N&O, among the people who would be most profoundly affected by a "new" retirement age of 70, which is the number quoted of late, are workers who have been bending their backs for 40 years, doing hard physical labor which began to take its toll some years ago.
These working Americans have not been behind desks in air-conditioned high rises, or taking leisurely strolls across a tree-covered campus, or going about their chores in Congress supported by the policy wonks on staff or professional sycophants.
They have been taking down trees, hoisting stocks of groceries on to the high shelves, bent over fixing your plumbing.
And now, struggling in those last years leading up to Medicare and Social Security, they're about plumb worn out.