Workers in Detroit face a major — and very real — retirement crisis. Wealth inequality and workplace changes have practically sawed-off two of the legs of the traditional retirement stool: pensions and private savings. More than half of today’s retirees rely on the third leg of the stool, Social Security, for most of their income. Even with Social Security, some 7% of Michigan seniors live in poverty. The good news is that workers can increase the size of their future Social Security checks by delaying retirement.
Delayed claiming past the early retirement age of 62 results in bigger monthly benefit checks for life. Waiting until after the current full retirement age of 66 yields even greater gains — up to 44% more than early claiming. But too few of Detroit’s workers are taking advantage of this delay-and-gain strategy. More than half of Michigan workers retire by age 62 — four years before they can collect their full Social Security benefits.
Unfortunately, nearly half of workers nationwide are unaware of the financial advantages of waiting to claim Social Security until at least the full retirement age — or the penalties for filing early. That is why our organization has launched “Delay and Gain,” a public education project to help Pittsburgh’s older workers understand what’s at stake. Our goal is to help workers make the best choice when timing their retirement for maximum financial gain.
Traveling around the country, I have often heard from retirees who don’t have enough money to keep up with expenses. Meanwhile, many of those still working tell me they plan to retire early simply because they are “sick and tired of working.” I respond that they will be even more sick and tired of not having enough money in old age. The cost of essentials like health care, housing, utilities and groceries are rising every year. People are living longer, meaning seniors must survive on their fixed incomes even longer. Detroit’s future retirees will likely need the extra cash that delayed claiming can provide.
Women confront special financial challenges in retirement due to persistent wage discrimination and time spent away from the workforce raising children or caring for elderly family members. Because Social Security retirement benefits are based on lifetime earnings history, women’s benefits are typically lower than men’s. Women of color have even more reason to maximize benefits. Average Social Security checks for African American women are 25% lower than men’s, while Latinas’ are 31% lower.
Women can mitigate these inequities by waiting to claim Social Security until at least full retirement age — increasing their monthly benefits.
Of course, not everyone can wait to claim benefits until full retirement age. Poor health, physical limitations, workplace changes, caregiving demands and unemployment are a few of the factors that can make it difficult to wait to file for Social Security. But for Detroit’s workers who are able to continue working until at least their full retirement age, it pays to delay and gain.
Max Richtman is president and CEO of the nonprofit National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. He is former staff director of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging.