When Social Security was established, it was designed to ensure workers don’t go broke in retirement and to be an equalizer between the rich and poor. The program is structured to give low-income earners generous retirement benefits, given the taxes they pay during their working years, but those benefits designed to level the playing field are slowly eroding away, reports Neil Irwin of The New York Times.

Rich people have longer life expectancies than poor people, so despite collecting Social Security at a lower rate per month, they receive those checks for a longer period of time. In some circumstances, the program can actually be regressive, offering richer benefits to those who are already affluent.

Earners in the top 1% typically live to 87, while a person earning $30,000 a year dies, on average, at age 78.

It is becoming overwhelmingly evident that the life span gap between rich and poor is widening. A study published this year by Barry Bosworth, Gary Burtless, and Kan Zhang found that life expectancy for the bottom 10% of male wage earners turning 66 this year has risen 0.7 of a year compared with what was expected for their low-income counterparts 30 years ago. For the top 10% of male wage earners, however, life span rose 8.1 years in the same period.

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