當年今日﹕French people oppose the rise of retirement age
【明報專訊】On 16 October 2010, millions of French people took to the streets to protest against then President Nicolas Sarkozy's (薩爾科齊) plan to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62. Though the incumbent president Francois Hollande (奧朗德) reversed the measure, it points to a question: Is such a measure good during an economic downturn?
Backgrounds of the policy change
Sarkozy's retirement age rise is part of his austerity measures (緊縮政策) in response to the eurozone debt crisis (歐元區債務危機), which began in 2009. Eric Woerth, who was then Labour Minister, argued that the move was necessary to keep France's pension (退休金) system afloat. The system was then running a US$13-billion deficit, which was expected to rise to about US$123 billion within 40 years.
The measure was extremely unpopular, however, and was part of the reason why Sarkozy lost his bid for re-election in 2012.
Raising the retirement age: the pros and cons
The retirement age is the age at which working people may get full retirement benefits. Raising the retirement age is a thing a government usually does to reduce its deficit, but views differ as to its effectiveness.
A major argument for raising the retirement age is that people now live longer, and the population is ageing. This is exactly what is happening in Hong Kong. According to Commissioner for Census and Statistics Leslie Tang (政府統計處長鄧偉江), in 2014, life expectancy at birth was 81.2 years for males and 86.9 years for females. Life expectancy at birth is projected to increase to 87.0 years for males and 92.5 years for females in 2064. The ageing trend is revealed by the increasing median age of the population, which will rise from 43.7 in 2014 to 50.0 in 2034 and 53.5 in 2064 (excluding foreign domestic helpers).
Some economists argue that it helps the economy to raise the retirement age. If people work longer, the need for tax increases or other benefit will diminish. Furthermore, a larger workforce will boost the economy and increase tax revenues, making it easier for the government to solve budget problems. Increasing the supply of labour will also increase productivity.
Since some employers are reluctant to hire people in their 60s, raising the retirement age might not help older people. Furthermore, although there are now less "heavy manual" jobs in the economy, a significant number of jobs still involve manual labour. Workers in such industries will find it hard to continue to work to an old age.
Raising the retirement age could diminish young people's upward social mobility (社會向上流動力) too. The reason is that, if people hold senior positions retire later, it will be harder for young people to move up the social ladder.
It is also argued that raising the retirement age will hurt minority and low-income workers harder, making the society less fair and less just. It is because affluent people can well afford to retire earlier, but low-income workers must work longer if they want to get their full retirement benefits, which mean a lot to them.
社會保障 social security
預期壽命 life expectancy
人口老化 ageing population
社會階梯 social ladder