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Watch Your Facts

Sheldon Richman

When we argue against government programs, it is of the utmost importance that we get the facts right. Otherwise we undermine our credibility and hurt the cause of liberty. (Yes, there are negative externalities.)

A popular debating point against Social Security is that when it was enacted in 1935, life expectancy was about 60. So, it is asked, what’s the use of a benefit program that kicks in at age 65?

The problem is, that is life expectancy at birth. (It was actually 61.7 for men and women of all races.) But that figure is misleading because it includes infant mortality and childhood deaths. Life expectancy at 50 was much higher number. The Social Security site says that in 1940, Americans who reached age 65 on average lived 13.7 more years. In 1940, there were 9 million American 65 and older, about 7 percent of the population of 132,164,569.

That gives a different picture, doesn’t it?

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