The Takeaway: Forced To Take Early Social Security

In May, the Urban Institute reported that the number of eligible Americans taking early Social Security benefits had hit a 35-year low. But the recession and protracted high unemployment have left some older adults-such as 62-year-old Clare Keany-forced to take benefits earlier than planned.

Keany, profiled by the New York Times, reluctantly applied for Social Security this year after losing her job in 2008 and being unable to find a new one, despite an extensive search. It’s not an uncommon experience for older workers: A Government Accountability Office report found that only about a third of those 55 to 64 who lose jobs from 2007 through 2009 had found full-time work again by January 2010, compared to 41 percent for younger workers.

Older workers also stay unemployed longer-an average of 34.1 weeks for people 55-plus, versus 22 weeks for all jobless people. And those that can’t find work often end up claiming early Social Security: According to an analysis by the Urban Institute, 37 percent of older workers who lost their jobs between 2008 and 2011 and did not return to work ended up claiming Social Security as soon as they turned 62.

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Of course, claiming Social Security at 62 means receiving a reduced monthly benefit for the rest of your life; those who collect early get 20 to 30 percent less a month than they would if they waited until full retirement age. To put it another way: For each year you put off collecting between 62 and 70, you’ll increase your monthly benefit by 5 to 8 percent. [See AARP's Social Security benefits calculator here.]

Monday Quick Hits:

  • Overqualified and underemployed. “There’s an overqualified epidemic, unfortunately,” said Joan Freeman, director of the older workers advocacy group Gray Matters Coalition. Both younger and older workers are taking whatever jobs they can find.
  • L.A. grannies go viral. The California grandmas known online as the “3 Golden Sisters” have become Internet sensations for YouTube videos and “free Italian mother advice.” The women-actual sisters, ages 70 to 80, originally from the Bronx, N.Y.-are negotiating a television talk show.
  • Retirement cooperatives popular in Midwest. A growing number of senior housing cooperatives let retirees live independently but in the context of an older adult community. The first senior cooperative was developed in 1978 in Minnesota; now there are roughly 102 nationwide. But they’ve remained largely a Midwestern phenomenon, due to Minnesota and Iowa lenders and developers who’ve embraced the concept, Dennis Johnson, chairman of the Senior Cooperative Foundation, said.
  • Living wills get a critical look. Some health organizations are trying to improve living wills, the Wall Street Journal reports. meanwhile, some ethicists think living wills should be done away with altogether.

Photo: Michal Czerwonka/The New York Times/Redux