Killing the Zombie Lie That "We're All Living Longer"

You hear this one all the time when it comes to Social Security and Medicare. "We have to raise the retirement age because we're living longer." We've been arguing against that one for a year now.

The fact is, men are living less than three years longer, women about five. Yes, there are more people living longer because they didn't die at age 3 of whooping cough or polio, but the life expectancy for an individual has not been extended very much at all once age 65 is reached. Disturbingly, pushing the retirement age out five years as is currently proposed actually means an individual male retiree today is at risk of being cheated of two years more retirement than our supposedly drastically shorter-lived forebears received more than half a century ago.

The latest available information is demonstrating that the gains in life expectancy that led to this zombie lie in the first place are now being reversed. This weekend, Laura Clawson wrote about a University of Washington study showing a significant drop in life expectancy for both women and black men in the past decade.

From 1987 to 1997, there were 227 counties where female life expectancy dropped. From 1997 to 2007, the number of counties where women’s life expectancy dropped exploded to 737.... Besides the precarious state of women, life expectancy for black men in two-thirds of the nation’s counties is no better than what it was in other rich countries in the 1950s.

Hang on, though, because it's an even bigger story than just that. Via Ezra Klein:

In December, the Los Angeles Times reported — very briefly — that from 2007 to 2008, life expectancy in the United States declined by 0.1 year. It should have been the lead story of every newspaper in the country with the largest possible headlines (“LESS LIFE“). Did 9/11 reduce life expectancy this much? Of course not. Did World War II? Not in a visible way — American life expectancy rose during World War II. I can’t think any event in the last 100 years that made such a difference to Americans. The decline is even more newsworthy when you realize: 1. It is the continuation of trends. The yearly increase in life expectancy has been dropping for about the last 40 years. 2. Americans spend far more on health care than any other country. Meaning vast resources have been available to translate new discoveries into practice. 3. Americans spend far more on health research than any other country and should be the first to benefit from new discoveries.

The lessons? The "best health care system in the world" only actually applies to the people who can afford to use it. More importantly, the policy-makers who advocate for making us work longer and wait longer before receiving benefits from Social Security or Medicare are completely divorced from the reality of the part of America than can't afford to use the "best health care system in the world."

Additionally, forcing more people to wait to receive these benefits will result in a sicker older population, even more money spent on health care when they do finally qualify for Medicare, and earlier deaths for many. And in the long run, shorter life expectancy. For the average working schlub, that is. Not for the people Alan Simpson knows.

Daily Kos / By Joan McCarter | Sourced from

Posted at July 7, 2011, 2:49am