Beware the Time Thieves

A crowd dressed in light blue T-shirts holds signs saying Save our Social Security and Keep My SSA Office Open.

Members of the American Federation of Government Employees defend Social Security against cuts during the Obama administration. The Social Security Expansion Act of 2023 introduced in the Senate by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren would strengthen the system and give retirees a raise. Photo: Chelsea Bland, AFGE.

French workers have shut the country down with general strikes three times in the last month to defend their time.

They’re protesting a proposal to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.

It’s enough to make you cry. Here, the Social Security retirement age was ratcheted up to 67 by bipartisan agreement during the Reagan administration. But because the oldest people affected were in their 40s at the time, few people noticed that everyone would soon be losing two years of paid time off.

They’re coming for our time again. Republicans had a cunning plan to block raising the debt ceiling unless the Biden administration agreed to Social Security cuts.

Biden denounced the plan in his State of the Union address. When Republicans booed and some yelled out that he was a liar, he said in effect, oh good, so we have agreement on protecting Social Security and Medicare, then?

Unfortunately, that is not the end of it. As low unemployment rates persist and employers complain they “can’t find workers,” they are desperate to keep people on the job longer. They hope to keep potential retirees in the job market through paltry retirement benefits or higher retirement ages. Then they won’t have to raise wages or improve working conditions to attract workers.


We know to watch out when pundits on both sides of the aisle tut-tut that Social Security is in trouble, that in a decade it may pay out more than it brings in—which they dishonestly call “bankruptcy”—all the while blaming nebulous demographic factors.

But it’s no mystery why Social Security might need strengthening. The gains of our economy over the last 40 years have all gone to the richest, and that money isn’t taxed for Social Security. Only wages and salaries are, and even then the tax is capped at $160,000 of earnings. After that, no tax is collected.



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A simple fix would be to tax all wages and salaries by abolishing that cap, and tax the income the rich receive in other ways. The Social Security Expansion Act, a bill sponsored by Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, would do just that—and increase benefits by $2,400 a year, giving seniors a much-needed raise.


Employers are coming for our time at the other end of life, too. Democrat-dominated New Jersey recently raised the number of hours 16- and 17-year-olds can work during summers and holidays to 50 hours a week. Now 14- and 15-year-olds can work 40 hours. Bills in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Ohio propose similar changes.

Iowa’s legislature sent a bipartisan letter to Congress proposing the federal government loosen child labor laws. They proposed that kids under 16 be allowed to work during the school year until 9 p.m.

They also want to expand the types of work 14- and 15-year-olds are allowed to do, using the loophole of “work-based learning programs,” and, chillingly, remove liability for employers if these adolescents are injured.

Employers aren’t waiting for the laws to change. This past year, child labor violations have turned up at Chipotle and McDonald’s, in Alabama and Georgia auto parts plants (involving children as young as 12), and even in meatpacking plants in eight states.

This is on top of legal child labor in agriculture, which results in more than 300,000 minors working in the fields every year.

It’s tempting to attack these time-stealing laws on health grounds. Young workers are more likely to be injured; workers in physical jobs are too worn out to work past a certain age. But this fight is about so much more than what we can physically do.

It’s also about whether we’ll have time for a life outside of work. The employing class will demand every minute of our days and every moment of our lives. We echo the striking French workers who say that’s not what life is all about.

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Jenny Brown is an assistant editor at Labor Notes.