[Paleopsych] NYT: Social Security Underestimates Future Life Spans, Critics Say

Christian Rauh (from webmail) christian.rauh at uconn.edu
Wed Jan 5 14:04:10 UTC 2005

Quoting Steve Hovland <shovland at mindspring.com>:
> Get ready to work longer than you expected :-)

And live longer. ;-)


> Steve Hovland
> www.stevehovland.net
> -----Original Message-----
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> To:	World Transhumanist Ass.; paleopsych at paleopsych.org
> Subject:	[Paleopsych] NYT: Social Security Underestimates Future Life
> Spans,	Critics Say
> Social Security Underestimates Future Life Spans, Critics Say
> NYT December 31, 2004
> WASHINGTON, Dec. 30 - When the federal government assesses
> the long-term financial problems of Social Security, it
> assumes that increases in life expectancy will be slow and
> measured. But many population experts say they believe that
> Americans' life expectancy will increase rapidly in the
> 21st century, making the program's financial problems even
> worse.
> President Bush and Congress are preparing for a debate over
> the future of Social Security, whose solvency depends not
> only on factors including productivity, inflation and birth
> rates but also on how long beneficiaries will be living.
> Life expectancy at birth increased by 30 years in the last
> century, and many independent demographers, citing the
> promise of biomedical research and the experience of some
> other industrialized countries, predict significant
> increases in this century. The Social Security
> Administration foresees a much slower rise.
> "Life expectancy will make a very big difference in the
> fiscal viability of Social Security, but the agency's
> projections of longevity appear too conservative," said
> Prof. Samuel H. Preston of the University of Pennsylvania,
> one of the nation's leading demographers.
> Dr. Preston said the agency assumed that "past advances in
> life expectancy are unrepeatable, even though the medical
> research establishment is routinely producing important
> breakthroughs that reduce the incidence or fatality of a
> variety of diseases."
> Richard M. Suzman, associate director of the National
> Institute on Aging, a unit of the National Institutes of
> Health, said: "There is a long history of government
> actuaries and statisticians underestimating future gains in
> life expectancy. The United States is unfortunately well
> below the outer limits of life expectancy. Other countries
> are doing much better. That gives us an indication of the
> potential room for improvement."
> Tables published by the government's National Center for
> Health Statistics show that life expectancy at birth was
> 47.3 years in 1900, rose to 68.2 by 1950 and reached 77.3
> in 2002. The latest annual report of the Social Security
> trustees projects that life expectancy will increase just
> six years in the next seven decades, to 83 in 2075. A
> separate set of projections, by the Census Bureau, shows
> more rapid growth.
> Social Security says male life expectancy at birth will be
> 81.2 years in 2075. The Census Bureau, using different
> methods and assumptions, says that level will be reached
> much earlier, in 2050.
> Likewise, Social Security says female life expectancy will
> reach 85 years by 2075, while the Census Bureau says it
> will exceed 86 in 2050.
> For the American population as a whole in the last century,
> most of the gains in life expectancy at birth occurred from
> 1900 to 1950. But most of the gains in life expectancy
> among people who had already reached age 65 were seen after
> 1950.
> Last year an expert panel advising the Social Security
> Administration found "an unprecedented reduction in certain
> forms of old-age mortality, especially cardiovascular
> disease, beginning in the late 1960's."
> The panel said Social Security was wrong to assume a slower
> decline in mortality rates among the elderly in the next 75
> years. Rather, it said, the government should assume that
> mortality will continue to decline as it did from 1950 to
> 2000.
> Ronald D. Lee, a professor of demography and economics at
> the University of California, Berkeley, said: "I foresee
> death rates of the elderly in the United States continuing
> to decline at the same pace they have declined since 1950.
> In fact, there is evidence that the pace of decline in
> other developed countries has accelerated in recent
> decades."
> The Social Security Administration defends its assumptions.
> "There is a wide range of opinion among experts on this
> issue," said Mark Hinkle, a spokesman for the agency. "In
> the last few years, we've moved a bit closer to the
> position of other agencies and demographers."
> Some experts say other factors could ease the effects of
> longer life on Social Security's solvency.
> "The higher costs associated with longer life expectancy
> could be offset in several ways that do not involve a
> reduction of Social Security benefits," said John R.
> Wilmoth, another demographer at Berkeley.
> People who live longer could work longer, for instance. Or
> the size of the working-age population could increase
> because of higher birth rates or a larger number of
> immigrants.
> Further, some population experts foresee developments that
> could wind up buttressing the forecasts of the Social
> Security Administration. S. Jay Olshansky, a professor of
> epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of
> Illinois at Chicago, said the era of large increases in
> life expectancy might be nearing an end, with the spread of
> obesity and the possible re-emergence of deadly infectious
> diseases.
> "There are no lifestyle changes, surgical procedures,
> vitamins, antioxidants, hormones or techniques of genetic
> engineering available today with the capacity to repeat the
> gains in life expectancy that were achieved in the 20th
> century" with antibiotics, vaccinations and improvements in
> sanitation, Dr. Olshansky said.
> Indeed, he said, without new measures on obesity and
> communicable diseases, "human life expectancy could decline
> in the 21st century."
> On the other hand, said James W. Vaupel, director of the
> program on population, policy and aging at Duke University,
> life expectancy in the United States is far from any
> natural or biological limits.
> "Experts have repeatedly asserted that life expectancy is
> approaching a ceiling," Dr. Vaupel said. "These experts
> have repeatedly been proved wrong."
> At various times, different countries have had the highest
> reported at-birth life expectancy. But with "remarkable
> regularity" over the last 160 years, Dr. Vaupel said, life
> expectancy in the leading country has increased an average
> of three months a year, or 2.5 years a decade.
> David A. Wise, a Harvard professor who is director of the
> program on aging at the private, nonpartisan National
> Bureau of Economic Research, said: "Almost all demographers
> outside the government think that death rates will continue
> to fall faster than the decline incorporated in the
> projections of the Social Security Administration. Most
> think life expectancy will increase more rapidly than
> Social Security says. That's not good for the finances of
> Social Security."
> Nor do economists generally foresee a reversal of the trend
> toward early retirement. Though researchers have observed a
> significant decline in chronic disability among the
> elderly, most workers retire and begin drawing Social
> Security benefits before they reach 65.
> Labor unions and some politicians have resisted efforts to
> raise the eligibility age for full benefits. Such
> proposals, they say, penalize workers who have spent their
> lives in physically demanding jobs.
> Alicia H. Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement
> Research at Boston College, said, "Increases in life
> expectancy at 65 have been a major contributor to the
> rising cost of Social Security." Future increases could
> strain pension plans and individual retirement savings, as
> well as Social Security, she said.
> "The United States is the richest major country in the
> world in terms of per capita gross domestic product," Dr.
> Munnell said. "And life expectancy is clearly associated
> with income."
> She added, though, that "if you focus on life expectancy at
> age 65, the U.S. falls in the middle of the pack."
> One reason, she said, is that "the United States is not so
> rich relative to its peers if you look at the average
> income going to the lowest 40 percent of the population."
> http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/31/politics/31benefit.html
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