Work 'til You Drop: Is that such a bad idea?

Social Security is slated to run out of money in 2033, three years earlier than expected.  So maybe it's time for politicians to stop pandering when it comes to shoring up the system and instead rethink the retirement entitlement altogether.

Maybe we just need to look back at our history.

In the early 1900s, nearly 80 percent of Americans over the age of 65 had a job.  Dora Costa, an economic historian at UCLA, says people stopped working only if they were no longer physically able to.  They expected to work as long as they lived

Is that really such a terrible idea?

Look at our labor force.  It's changed dramatically since Social Security was enacted in 1935.  Most of us are no longer spending our time working on farms or in heavy labor.  Most of us are retiring from office jobs.  Should we really be funding retirement at 65 just so we can live a life of leisure for the next 15, 20, or 25 years?  Some financial advisers are even suggesting that when planning for retirement, we plan to live to 100, or at least another 30 years.

Aging just isn't what it used to be.  Carroll O'Connor was only 47 when All in the Family premiered -- younger than Brad Pitt.  And look at Mitt RomneyHe's 65; he's fit, and he surfs.  While wealthy, he's hardly an outlier.  The majority of us aren't sitting in rockers in our 60s.  We're physically active -- playing tennis and golf, hiking, traveling.  We're living longer, healthier lives than ever before. 

It should be good news that we're living longer, but with an entire nation set to be on the government dole in their later years, it's not good news at all.  Right now, we spend more on Social Security than on national defense.  And with baby-boomers retiring and living longer than ever, it's only going to get worse.

In fact, the International Monetary Fund recently warned that retirement costs are rising faster than expected.  Worldwide, people are living an average of three years longer than anticipated -- in the U.S., it's up to eight years -- and government pensions aren't equipped to handle it. 

When the government first started sending out Social Security checks in 1940, the average lifespan was 63 years.  Today, it's 79.  Our unexpected longevity has already added another $3.2 trillion to our overburdened Medicare and Social Security systems.  And it's expected that our lifespans will increase another four years by 2050.

The first monthly Social Security check was sent to Ida May Fuller on January 31, 1940.  She paid a total of $24.75 into the system.  Her first check was for $22.54.  After her second check, she'd already received more than she ever contributed.  She lived to be 100 and collected $22,888.

That scenario is playing itself out, in smaller ways, over and over again all across the country.  We're often paying out more in benefits than we're putting in, causing our budget deficit to balloon in an unsustainable manner.

Politicians have been warning us for years about the impending collapse of Social Security, but with millions of people relying on it, tackling the problem in any truly meaningful way is unpopular at best.  There have long been calls to raise the retirement age and increase taxes in order to fund the system.  Rep. Paul Ryan has called for partially privatizing Social Security and Medicare for those under 55 and raising the retirement age to 70.

But is that enough?

Our society has changed drastically over the seven-plus decades since Social Security was introduced.  Maybe our thinking about it should, too.