People in their 50s are facing more health issues than previous generations. How will that affect retirement and Social Security?
Pity poor Social Security.
It’s about to sustain another big blow.
Founded in 1935 as an economic safety net for older Americans, it’s been a political football for many of the years since.
Now, thanks to a new study showing middle-aged Americans in 2017 are less healthy than prior generations, ever more demands are likely to be made on the fund.
Researchers at the University of Michigan compared the health profiles of people in their 50s with those of people over 60.
They found more illness and more reports from the younger people of their health being only “fair” or “poor.”
Meanwhile, the law determining eligibility for Social Security has changed.
According to the study, published in the October issue of the journal Health Affairs, “To receive full Social Security benefits, Americans born after 1937 must claim those benefits at an older age than earlier birth cohorts.”
Waiting longer to retire combined with worsening health means more people may claim partial benefits or apply for disability.
“We found that younger cohorts are facing more burdensome health issues, even as they have to wait until an older age to retire, so they will have to do so in poorer health,” Robert Schoeni, a study author and economist and demographer at the University of Michigan, told HealthDay News.
HwaJung Choi, PhD, the first author of the new paper, is a research assistant professor at the University of Michigan.
She noted the danger to Social Security.
“It’s problematic,” she told Healthline.
The information had been collected over decades by the National Institute on Aging and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and generally showed an upward trend, with each generation stronger and healthier than the previous one.
“This will push health organizations,” Choi said. “People will have to wait longer for retirement.”
Choi noted that low income people, whose jobs may involve physical labor, will have fewer resources for health problems and become even more stressed.
In terms of policy implications, with full benefits delayed to age 67, it’s important to look at ages and eligibility, Choi said.
The researchers measured several facets.
One looked at the ability to perform everyday tasks, such as walking across a room, dressing, bathing, eating, and getting into or out of bed. The researchers did not examine information about people older than 60 because workers begin to retire at these ages, and retirement status may influence health.
The middle-aged group also said they suffer from a higher rate of memory and thinking problems, compared to prior generations of 50-year-olds.
However, physical function — the ability to climb stairs without resting, lifting 10 pounds, etc. — did not appear to differ significantly across generations.
As the report puts it, “Birth cohorts required to work longer are in worse health at ages 49–60, based on multiple measures of morbidity, than cohorts who could retire earlier.”
Chris Orestis, executive vice president of secondary markets for GWG Life, sees several looming problems.
“As social safety nets are stretched by [a post-baby boomer population], there will be more pressure to increase the minimum ages to qualify,” Orestis told Healthline. “For aging people who find their health becoming compromised at a younger age than in the past, this can make an already difficult situation almost impossible.”
“Life expectancy has been increasing over human history and made considerable leaps in the 20th and now into the 21st centuries,” Orestis explained. “Many factors contributed to the increase such as technology, medical advances, safer transportation and habitation, improved workplace conditions and better regulations. But at the same time, increases in morbidity and cognitive conditions have had an impact on quality of life for people as they live longer.”
This leads to the irresistible force paradox: What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?
So far, nobody knows.
That’s the big picture.
But Orestis, an insurance expert, sees hope on an individual scale.
“There is no avoiding aging, so the more you do today to be ready the better off things will be for you and your loved ones,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what age you are now. It is never too late to start. You can eat better, exercise more, get active, and stay connected with family and friends.
“You can start informing yourself about how to be ready for long-term care by understanding the different types of care, how to pay for it, how to recognize when the need for care arrives, and how to work together as a family to make sure things go as smoothly as possible,” he added.
Particularly since no one knows what shape Social Security will be in by then.