Blue-Collar Workers Often Retire Early

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Construction workers

Construction and factory workers, truck drivers, and cleaning crews don’t always have the flexibility to work a few extra years to beef up their monthly Social Security checks.

Several blog readers stressed this point in their comments on a recent blog article, “Changing Social Security: Who’s Affected.”

Lorraine Porto retired from a desk job, but her family is filled with craftsmen, carpenters, electricians, farmers, and truckers who worked “until they were worn out.”

People in white-collar jobs don’t always appreciate “just how tough and demanding it is” to climb poles every day, descend into manholes, build skyscrapers, or bring in the hay in 90-degree heat and sub-zero temperatures, Porto said.

Her comment was in response to the article, which described a study about a hypothetical increase in Social Security’s retirement ages. It found that if Congress were to increase the earliest possible age for starting Social Security from 62 currently to 64, blue-collar workers would have much more of an adjustment to make.

Blue-collar workers, Kenneth Wegner wrote, “are less physically able to remain in their jobs.”

Policymakers are well aware of this concern, and a proposal to increase the early retirement age isn’t currently on the table. Yet many people are deciding to postpone retirement on their own. The general trend in recent decades is for all workers – even some people in physically demanding jobs – to delay when they collect Social Security.

That wasn’t possible for Mark Roberts. The former electrician, who worked on construction sites in Austin, Texas, said he had to go on disability due to an old foot injury that got worse over time. Now 67, he said he wasn’t able to work long enough or earn enough to save for retirement and ekes out an existence on his Social Security checks.

“I have to survive for a month on what I used to make every week,” he said.

White-collar workers who lose their jobs can also find themselves in a similar predicament. After Jennifer Lee was laid off as a church administrator a few years ago, she felt she had no choice but to collect Social Security at 63. She now works part-time to make up for her smaller monthly checks.

Under Social Security’s program rules, monthly benefits are reduced for workers who start them prior to their full retirement age – 66 for most baby boomers – and the benefits start increasing after this age, up to 70.

It’s important “to consider all aspects of why one may retire earlier,” Lee said, “and being forced to is often beyond the control of the employee.”

To read this study, authored by Lindsay Jacobs, see “Occupations and Work at Older Ages: Varied Responses to Policy.”

The research reported herein was derived in whole or in part from research activities performed pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.  The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the author and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA, any agency of the federal government, or Boston College.  Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, make any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the contents of this report.  Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof.

Edward Hoffer MD

This is a great point. Most of the financial advisers who advocate working past normal retirement age are oblivious to the demands of a physically taxing job. I would also note that people working in the most physically demanding and dangerous jobs are the least likely to have employer-paid health insurance. A double whammy.


That’s why I chose a career that didn’t require climbing poles, descending into manholes, building skyscrapers, or bringing in the hay in extreme hot and cold.

When I was young and working in factory jobs, my father advised me that I probably wouldn’t want to be doing that for the rest of my life. (Sage advice.) So, after a tour in the Air Force, I went to college, earned a degree in computer science, has an exciting career, and everything has turned out very well. (Should’ve listened to dad much earlier!) Financially, things worked out well. We were able to retire early a decade ago and are still actively involved.

It’s almost always about personal choices.

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