Two West Virginia University experts see threats to quality of life along with health care and tax bases in ongoing debates about increasing retirement ages in the United States and elsewhere.
Julie Hicks Patrick, professor of lifespan development psychology in the Department of Psychology, and Mandy Weirich, gerontology program coordinator in the School of Social Work, are available to discuss a move to take the retirement age from 62 to 64 in France, which has sparked protests, and to address any potential fallout that could occur if the United States followed suit with retirement age additions.
Patrick leads the WVU Appalachian Gerontology Experiences — Advancing Diversity in Aging Research project, providing training and hands-on experiences for students who want to research health disparities and aging in Appalachia.
Weirich has more than a decade of experience in the rural aging field and has won several awards for her work in gerontology.
“It is always frustrating when politicians want to adjust the retirement age, programs like Medicare and Social Security and pensions. The world has known since the 1940s, when the baby boom began, that these folks would be old someday. What we did not anticipate was that today’s older adults would have already weathered several stock market challenges to any retirement savings that they had accrued.
“Few anticipated that corporations and manufacturing would default on their pension obligations and we are all aware of the costs of medical care. What is and is not covered by safety net programs puts many older adults at risk. This is especially true in Appalachia. Raising the retirement age or age of eligibility for benefits harms people of all ages. Younger workers can expect to work more years with fewer resources in their own pockets. Middle-aged adults may not have time and resources to save for retirement, support aging parents and help younger offspring. Older adults will not receive the benefits that they had planned for, leaving the most vulnerable especially at risk.
“We know that older adults at or below 150% of the poverty line use Social Security for the majority of their retirement, not because they were lazy or wasteful, but because they never earned enough to be able to save even a little.” — Julie Hicks Patrick, professor of lifespan development psychology, Department of Psychology, WVU Eberly College of Arts and Sciences
“Raising the retirement age in the U.S. is not about the quality of life for older adults, and certainly not for those that have spent their life in the service industry or labor-intensive industries. When Social Security was enacted in 1965, life expectancy was only 62, and now life expectancy is about 77 years of age. Social Security was not meant to sustain us for a decade or more.
“Yet, millions of Americans rely on Social Security for their only means of retirement — those who have stood on concrete floors for eight hours a day in retail environments, or worked in hot kitchens walking on greasy floors to serve us our drive-thru meals or taken care of our kids in their own home day care and the list goes on and on. Many of these folks wait until they are Medicare-eligible to get the health care they need for chronic disease and they are just holding their breath until they can draw their Social Security. This is truer in states that have not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. I can’t speak for all rural areas, but I know when I go shopping or to fast food restaurants here in West Virginia, it is older men and women who are waiting on me. They shouldn’t have to work until they die waiting on retirement.
“I used to be an adult protective service worker and I remember before the ACA, I met people in their 50s and 60s just hoping to live until they got health care. Service jobs and labor-intensive jobs without benefits eat away at your body day after day. Doing that work until you are 77 can feel like a life sentence.” — Mandy Weirich, MSW Online Program Coordinator, Gerontology Program Coordinator, School of Social Work, WVU Eberly College of Arts and Sciences
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Credit: WVU Photo/Jennifer Shephard
Credit: WVU Photo
Credit: WVU Photo