Keep an Eye on how the French Handle Retirement

            Have you heard about the French? In France they have a nice retirement set-up. Workers in France have a public retirement system that looks a bit like our American Social Security system. Back in the ’80s, the retirement age for workers to access their share of the public pension system in France was 60 years old. In 2010 the retirement age was raised to 62.

            Then, earlier this year, President Macron of France announced his proposal to raise the retirement age under the public pension system to 65 before relenting and dropping the proposal to 64. Still, the French are not having any of it.

Over a million folks all across France marched in protest. And more protests are expected in the coming weeks and months. The objections have been bipartisan with folks from the far-left and extreme-right joining in their disdain for the proposal in a country where retirement is seen as an absolute right.

The protesters have urged that retirement at 62 is necessary to allow folks who have worked their entire lives to finally have a chance at enjoying life as they head into their final acts.

But Macron has argued that as life expectancy has increased and the ratio of workers to retirees has declined from 2.1 to 1.7 in just over two decades, the current system is untenable. The pensions are funded by payroll taxes, but as the ratio of workers to retirees continues to decline, there is a potential that there will be inadequate funding for all pension claims if drastic changes are not enacted.

Doing the math, Mr. Macron has foreseen that increasing the retirement age is an obvious answer to preserve the system.

But the proposal has set up a class war between the ultra-wealthy and the working classes, with the rich being blamed for the inadequacies in the pension system as a result of their taxes being slashed. Many French citizens believe that the wealthy must pay more in taxes in order to fund the pensions of the workers who allowed them to achieve their wealth. And this seems to be a point on which both liberals and conservatives agree.

For the French, the promise of a government pension is an expectation and a right. It is the reason that French people accept the burden of work in their younger years for the promise of enjoyment of living in their later years.

According to many commentators, the French view work as common drudgery, and the promise of a government-pension as hard-earned freedom from that drudgery.

Those same ideas have never been mainstream in an American culture where individualism and financial success are primary values. That may be the reason why Americans work later in life and typically enjoy much shorter retirements than their French brothers and sisters.

While Social Security benefits are not as generous in America as public pensions are in France, we have been hearing for decades that our government will have difficulty fulfilling its Social Security promises to retirees in future generations if changes are not made to the program.

Known as the “third-rail” of American politics, the howls and cries from Americans are likely to be just as loud and powerful on this side of the ocean if drastic changes to the Social Security retirement age are proposed in this country any time soon.

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