By David Gregory Chief White House correspondent
NBC News
updated 5/3/2005 7:26:24 PM ET 2005-05-03T23:26:24

The idea of raising the retirement age has somehow been lost in the debate over changing Social Security for today’s workers. And yet it seems to be the most obvious.

After all, experts say, the retirement program President Franklin Delano Roosevelt started never envisioned retirees’ living as long as they do now — on average at least a decade longer.

"As a result, it now costs an awful lot more money than anybody ever expected 70 years ago," says David John with the Heritage Foundation.

The Social Security retirement age is now 65, but it's slowly going up. For those born in 1960 or later it will be 67. But experts say you would have to raise it quickly to 72 over the next several years to make a real dent in the program's shaky finances.

"If you raised it to something like 72 and then kept on going in future years, that would pretty much solve problem," says John.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., has proposed raising the age to 68 for workers 44 or younger. 

"Our people are living longer, they're living better, they're working longer, they want to live longer, so I think moving that out one year is one of the things that we can do," says Hagel.

President Bush has said all ideas to shore up the program are on the table. And yet few discuss raising the retirement age. That's because in effect it's a benefit cut, just one of the reasons it's political trouble.

Among other reasons, for example, raising the retirement age would be especially hard for blue-collar workers like Joe Hetrick, a home builder.

"It's a physically demanding job, and to think that they could last until age 70 doing this kind of work is ridiculous," he says.

Critics also say once you start raising the age, you can't stop if you want to keep up with the shifting demographics. The number of retirees is expected to double over the next 10 to 15 years, to about 80 million, when baby boomers stop working — proving once again there is no Social Security fix that's pain-free.

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