Black men’s lower life expectancy a factor in starting Social Security
Black people know, intuitively, that we lag white Americans in a host of categories including health, wealth and living standards. So it was no surprise that, as The Washington Post reported, African American communities suffered an excess 1.6 million deaths compared with white populations over the past two decades.
What shocked me, though, were these lines in the article: “The shorter life expectancy of Black Americans means they do not derive what they have invested in Social Security. People born in 1960 can start receiving their full Social Security benefits at age 67, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black men born that year had an average life expectancy of just 61 years.”
Those facts are extremely personal to me:
I was born in 1959. I began earning a regular paycheck – and thus contributing to the payroll tax – at 16 (thank you, Burger King).
Neither my father nor my two older brothers lived past 70. Yet my maternal grandfather, a farmer from Prince Edward County, reached 102 and was physically mobile and mentally sharp throughout his life.
Discerning how long I’ll live is a crapshoot. Life expectancy in Virginia decreased during COVID-19, and the pandemic “exacerbated long standing health disparities,” according to the state’s Department of Health. Regarding Social Security, though, I may have paid into a system the odds suggest I won’t fully benefit from, to paraphrase The Post.
I’ve declined to take program benefits so far because of investments and savings I share with The Boss, my no-nonsense, shrewd spouse. The longer I delay, the more I can earn at my full retirement age, just shy of 67. I’d earn even more if I hold off ‘til age 70.
Regarding Social Security, though, I may have paid into a system the odds suggest I won’t fully benefit from.
The differences are substantial. If I began taking cash today, I’d be getting just 79% of the amount at full retirement and 63% of the monthly benefits at 70.
That’s one way to look at it. The other is a debate Michelle Singletary, the decades-long personal finance columnist at The Washington Post, and her husband waged among themselves – and in the newspaper. He wanted to take Social Security benefits at age 62 because it would take many years to make up for the cash lost from delaying until age 70.
Since The Boss is 60, if I die before collecting she “could be eligible for a surviving spouse benefit,” Shawn Fordham, a spokesman for the agency, told me. Other categories of family survivors who could get the money that individuals earn are on the Social Security website.
Some folks, though, might face circumstances limiting the amount of cash to survivors. Or maybe they have no close relatives who would qualify. “If there are none, those funds remain a part of the trust fund to pay current beneficiaries,” Fordham noted.
The conversation about when to cash out is crucial, especially for African American men and families.
Better to get 79% of something, instead of 100% of nothing.