News & Politics

Say It Ain't So, Hillary Clinton — You're Open to the Idea of Raising the Retirement Age?

Clinton seems to be open to raising the tax cap, but will not give a specific plan.

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 25: Hillary Clinton attends the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting at The Shertaon New York Hotel on September 25, 2013 in New York City.
Photo Credit: JStone /

At a forum in New Hampshire on Wednesday, Hillary Clinton stood by her support for the death penalty, which made headlines. But her remarks about Social Security that day didn't get as much attention.

She offered a lot of the same rhetoric many Democrats are now saying, that we need to look at how the poorest Social Security recipients are faring and think about how to shore up payments there. But she also left the door open to raising the retirement age if there were a way to exclude people who are not working labor-intensive jobs, while at the same time not fully endorsing simply raising the tax cap, which would ensure the system is fully funded going forward.

Question: You mentioned something very interesting: enhancing Social Security. So can you tell us how you might strengthen Social Security?

Clinton: Yes, you know, I think there are three parts to what we have to do with Social Security, and the first is we really have to defend Social Security from the continuing efforts by some to privatize it, which I have been studying and opposing for a long time because the numbers just don’t work out. And in the Bush administration when I was in the Senate I was one of the leaders in the fight against the plan to privatize and it is something that I, number one, will focus on: we are not going to privatize Social Security.

Secondly, I am concerned about those people on Social Security who are most vulnerable in terms of what their monthly payout is. That is primarily divorced, widowed, single women who either never worked themselves or worked only a little, so they have either just their own earnings to depend on or they had a spouse who also was a low-wage worker, and the first and most important task I think is to make sure that we get the monthly payment for the poorest Social Security recipients up. So that would be the first thing I would look at.

Thirdly, we do have to consider ways to make sure that the funding of Social Security does maintain the system. I think we have a number of options; this would be something that I would look at, I would not favor raising the retirement age. And I don’t favor it because it might be fine for somebody like me, but the vast majority of working people who have worked hard and have had a difficult, maybe last couple of decades trying to continue to work, it would be very challenging for them. If there were a way to do it that would not penalize or punish laborers and factory workers and long-distance truck drivers and people who really are ready for retirement at a much earlier age, I would consider it. But I have yet to find any recommendation that I would think would be suitable.

And I want to look at raising the cap. I think that’s something we should look at how we do it, because I don’t want it to be an extra burden on middle-class families and in some parts of the country, there’s a different level of income that defines middle class. So what do we skip and what level do we start at? And we have to consider that. So those are my three priorities in looking at Social Security.

To be clear, Clinton is not outright endorsing a clear hike in the retirement age like many of the Republicans are. But while she also seems to be open to raising the tax cap, she is not giving a figure or specific plan yet, and is making the suggestion that raising payroll taxes on families that earn over $100,000 would be an “extra burden” to those people, when actually the increase would be fairly modest.

Opening the door to any hike in the retirement age or offering opposition to simply eliminating the tax cap would put her out of step with most Americans on this issue, according to polls.

Zaid Jilani is an AlterNet staff writer. Follow @zaidjilani on Twitter.

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