A New York Times Op-Ed claims that life expectancy calculations for Social Security are too low, and recommends that cuts be made to Social Security. The referenced article is yet again, another prelude to the Diamond-Orzag plan, which cuts benefits across the board, based upon dated, “rosy” life expectancy figures from the turn of the Century. The Op-Ed also ignores that there has always been a big difference between the shortened lives of the poor and the lengthened lives of the upper middle class and the  wealthy.  A recent assessment in the UK found more evidence of large differences in the life expectancies of their rich and poor.

“Teams at the universities of Sheffield and Bristol calculated deaths before the age of 65 – considered premature – in areas of the top ten per cent down to the bottom ten per cent of wealth.

They said: “For every 100 people under the age of 65 dying in the best-off areas, 199 were dying in the poorest tenth of areas.

“This is the highest relative inequality recorded since at least 1921.

“When we looked at people aged under 75, for every 100 people dying in the best-off areas, 188 were dying in the poorest tenth of areas. That is the highest ratio of inequality recorded since at least 1990.”

The poor were twice as likely to die prematurely as the rich, and this in a country which has a higher life expectancy than in the U.S.. 2010 research showed that lower and higher income groups in the U.S. showed differences in life expectancies. The lower income males who will retire when the SS retirement age is 67 are expected to receive no benefit from their increased life longevity.

Since 2008 and the Crash, we have seen people in the U.S. fall into poverty through loss of employment, loss of unemployment benefits, loss of housing, and loss of community supports. It would seem reasonable to consider that we face shortened life spans in response to the economic and social shocks of the Crash. A recent paper does claim that life expectancy in the U.S. has been reduced, rather than extended.  Completely contradicts the NYtimes OP-Ed.  I suspect that our government’s statistics do not provide evidence of the fate of those who have dropped “off their radar”. Dolling-up pretty fictions appears to be their role. This is certainly true for treatment of statistics regarding unemployment.  As David Glenn Cox wrote in “One In Twelve”, making misery “appear to disappear” seems to be the official position on unemployment and the fate of the unemployed and poor. That would be a case of willful blindness. Since the real problem for Social Security is failure to capture enough income above the current FICA cap from higher income individuals, it is willful blindness to blame any SS gap on increases in life expectancy. (As noted by PW in comment #2, SSA fully anticipated increases in life expectancy in their projections.) This is a contrived Social Security ‘crisis’ whose goal is to weaken if not destroy the program.

The revolutions of 1789, 1832, 1848 speak to us from ‘living history’.  (Les Miserables by Victor Hugo is free to read online at The Gutenberg Project.) In all of the cases, willful blindness in the upper classes was responsible for what followed.  Hugo wrote about this split between Empire and suffering in recommending his work to an Italian publisher:

“You are right, sir, when you tell me that Les Misérables is written for all nations. I do not know whether it will be read by all, but I wrote it for all. It is addressed to England as well as to Spain, to Italy as well as to France, to Germany as well as to Ireland, to Republics which have slaves as well as to Empires which have serfs. Social problems overstep frontiers. The sores of the human race, those great sores which cover the globe, do not halt at the red or blue lines traced upon the map. In every place where man is ignorant and despairing, in every place where woman is sold for bread, wherever the child suffers for lack of the book which should instruct him and of the hearth which should warm him, the book of Les Misérables knocks at the door and says: “Open to me, I come for you.”

At the hour of civilization through which we are now passing, and which is still so sombre, the miserable’s name is Man; he is agonizing in all climes, and he is groaning in all languages.”

Updated January 17th, 2013: The Actuaries from Social Security defended the integrity of their life expectancy projections and have published this Note to refute the claims of the NYTimes OpEd authors.