WORK TIL YOU DROP….What was it that Howard Dean said about Republican leaders? Oh yes: “A lot of them have never made an honest living in their lives.”

Via the New York Times, here’s a good illustration of what Dean was talking about. It’s a perfect example of how conservative elites are out of touch with the reality of people who do earn an honest living:

The most direct way to deal with the financial strain of [Social Security] is simply to raise the retirement age….But of all the options to shore up Social Security’s finances, that ranks as one of the most unpopular, pollsters say. In a New York Times/CBS News Poll earlier this year, nearly 8 out of 10 respondents said they would oppose raising the age when people are eligible for Social Security benefits.

Political strategists say this issue is viewed very differently by policy experts, who may see nothing wrong with working longer….”In Washington, the focus is on the demographic reality that people live longer, and most of the people who are having this conversation wouldn’t mind working well into their 70’s and 80’s,” said Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster. “But out in the country, most working people don’t look forward to working forever.”

The retirement age for full benefits is already 67, which means that the average joe who graduates from high school and gets his first job in 2005 faces a working career of 49 years. Does conservative infatuation with rugged individualism really extend to the point of forcing the meat packers and taxi drivers who voted for them to keep working even longer than that?

This is the kind of conversation that white collar college graduates can carry on without skipping a beat, but it doesn’t go over quite so well in the heartland. There, the reality is that most people already retire at age 62. Less than a quarter keep working to 65, let alone 67 or 70. If you worked as a waitress or a pipefitter, you’d do the same, but apparently bright young Republican congressional staffers are too out of touch to figure this out.

If we insist on “fixing” Social Security, there are better ways than increasing the retirement age. I have some suggestions here, and Social Security expert Bob Ball has some here. It’s pretty simple stuff.