Marvin Olasky

We're regularly told how complex the national debt issue is, particularly with programs like Social Security and Medicare radically underfunded. I agree that Medicare is tough, but Social Security is fixable merely by maintaining the original intent of the program—and if more Americans developed and lived out a Christian worldview, the fix would be even easier.

The original intent of Social Security was to fund, on average, 13 years of retirement for men and 15 years for women: That was the life expectancy for 65-year-olds in 1935. A macabre fact aided the program's finances: Little more than half of men and women aged 21 were expected to make it to age 65, so everyone paid in for what some would receive.

Now, we live on average a decade longer. Congress slightly recognized this in 1983 by changing the age at which workers can receive full benefits from 65 to (in 2022) 67. The early eligibility age (a 1956 invention, originally for women only) remained at 62. Medical advances minimally warrant raising the full benefit age to 70 by 2022, and the early eligibility age to 67. The difference over time is trillions of dollars.

Ironically, the original Social Security age almost was 70 rather than 65. Roosevelt administration officials based their calculations on the experience of state pension systems, half of which had 65 as the retirement age and half of which provided benefits starting at age 70. Officials chose 65 because it was the retirement age within the Railroad Retirement System—and because it was politically popular.

The continued search for popularity may bankrupt the whole system. Raising the eligibility age could be tough on some in physically demanding jobs, but that's 8 percent at the most, according to an Urban Institute study, down from 20 percent in 1950. Special provision could be made for such workers, and for those in poor health—but with relatively few jobs requiring heavy lifting, and with the medical advances of recent decades, an overwhelming percentage of people between 65 and 70 are able to work.

The deeper issue is not "able" but "willing," given the option of kicking back instead. John Piper's pamphlet Rethinking Retirement (Crossway, 2009) notes that many Americans believe "we must reward ourselves now in this life for the long years of our labor." Retirement—playing, traveling, sleeping late—is "the world's substitute for heaven since the world does not believe there will be heaven beyond the grave."

Marvin Olasky

Marvin Olasky is editor-in-chief of the national news magazine World. For additional commentary by Marvin Olasky, visit
Be the first to read Marvin Olasky's column. Sign up today and receive delivered each morning to your inbox.