Other Departments --
T is surely entitled to argue ("How to Save Social Security," June Atlantic) that the way to "save" Social Security is to slash it. But you call raising the retirement age and lowering the inflation adjustment for benefits "painless." They're not.
Let's take a look at the arithmetic. In 2005, the year in which you propose to increase the retirement age from sixty-six (under current law) to seventy, the average sixty-six-year-old will have a life expectancy of about seventeen years. Thus raising the retirement age by four years will wipe out almost a quarter of the average sixty-six-year-old retiree's Social Security benefits. That's a pretty huge reduction.
It's even worse than that for the many moderate- and low-income workers in their mid-sixties who are simply worn out after spending a lifetime doing hard physical work-and who tend to die sooner than the well-off. For example, a laborer with a life expectancy of only ten years at age sixty-six would lose
40 percent of his or her Social Security benefits under your proposed boost in the retirement age.
Then there's your plan to reduce Social Security benefits by letting inflation erode their real value-a step that, you insist to current retirees, "will not cut your payments" but "will slow the rate by which they increase." If you reduce inflation indexing by, say, one percent a year, then over ten years a typical Social Security recipient will see an inflation-adjusted cut in benefits of about $4,300-equal to about half a year's worth of average benefits in today's dollars. That's $4,300 less in real food, clothing, and shelter that Social Security checks will buy over the ten years.
So how is all this "painless"? Well, I suppose it might seem relatively pain-free for well-off people who don't expect to retire until they're seventy anyway and for whom $400 or $500 a year is a bagatelle. But that description hardly fits most Americans.
Robert S. McIntyre
I recommend a simple but important refinement to your recommendation on how to save Social Security. Don't wait ten years to raise the minimum age for receiving Social Security payments to seventy; begin to raise the age for receiving payments one month a year every year until the system is in balance.
You are quite right about giving people "time to plan." This same principle should be applied to other important matters such as changes in the tax laws. If, for example, one wanted to institute a taxation system in which each dollar was taxed at the same rate and in which there were no deductions, present taxpayers could be given the option of staying with the current system or changing to the new system. That option could extend for ten or twenty or even thirty years, so that plans that had been constructed on the basis of the present tax system would not be unfairly disrupted.
Such gradualism has been denied us at great cost and on the basis that one Congress cannot pass laws binding upon the next Congress. It is true that the next Congress may have an entirely different composition and wish to undo the perceived mischief of preceding Congresses. Whether this represents desirable flexibility or intolerable vacillation may depend upon whether you are a member of the gray and retiring or the young and at work.
But it is certainly clear that we must take a longer perspective than that of the two-year congressional term if we are to avoid generational conflicts, and Social Security is one of the most pressing.
John R. Dykers Jr.
Delayed Childbearing Gina Maranto's laudable article ("Delayed Childbearing," June Atlantic) recommends that "America put its money where its mouth is on family values." I couldn't agree more. But we need to go even further than she suggests. Though it appears otherwise, the career-family dilemma is beyond the realm of the individual woman employee. Maternity leave, parental leave, and excellent child care are all essential supports if family values are to be taken seriously. In addition, work itself needs to be restructured. Felice Schwartz got clobbered for suggesting special treatment for mothers, but unless corporate America can comprehend that the well-being of the next generations will determine the fate of our nation ("economy" might be more meaningful), nothing will change. Although some shifts are occurring, the individualistic, competitive nature of career advancement makes it difficult for talented, competent, responsible women to take time off for childbearing if they have an interest in advancement. They can't have babies and guard their territory at work too.
Work assignment by project, rather than the traditional up-the-ladder approach, would help, as would tax breaks for child care and other family-related expenses. The emphasis should be on a woman's competence to accomplish her assignments, not her seniority or ability to fence off her empire. I understand that people who choose a career over children resent the inconvenience of motherhood (or fatherhood) on the job, and I can see their point. However, to deal with the deep problems facing both business and families, we need to take a bigger, more creative view of the workplace. If talented women could have babies in their twenties and know that they weren't hopelessly off the career track, it would be an easier decision for them.
Nina Boyd Krebs
As a former infertility patient and a woman who waited "too long" to conceive, I was struck by the following sentence in Gina Maranto's article: "In the bulk of cases, infertility specialists have found, older women who fail to become pregnant using embryos made with their own eggs succeed when the eggs come from a younger donor."
My question is, Can this possibly be true? To me, the word "bulk" implies a majority, and a substantial one at that. Is this what Maranto actually means to say?
The practice we used, Marrs/Vargyas, in Santa Monica, California, told us last year that their success rate stood at 36 percent (though recently it has been running at 58 percent), and I know that Mark Sauer also had a success rate of 36 percent for several years there. A 36 percent take-home-baby rate, while high, does not, to me, constitute the "bulk" of patients. One person I know, a forty-two-year-old woman who is currently pregnant courtesy of donor eggs, says that her physician's rate is now over 50 percent.
Does Gina Maranto have any idea what the actual rate is?
Calling on "society" to enable women to delay careers instead of their childbearing sounds nice but will not get the job done.
Let's face it: If they could, employers would eliminate most employee-rights laws, including the Family and Medical Leave Act's limited unpaid leave. They tend to look to short-term profit rather than to the long-term benefits (even financial ones) of a happier and more stable work force.
The exemplary paid family-and-medical-leave policies of European countries did not come about because one employer took the lead and others followed. Politicians created them through laws. In such an environment employers eventually adjust to make similar profits, but only when everyone else is required to follow the rules also.
The only way "society" can eliminate delays in childbearing is to cause delays in the re-election of our representatives in Washington who oppose eliminating them. Until then it is all just talk.