The American Academy of Actuaries today said the United States should strengthen the Social Security old age pension system by increasing the normal retirement age.

Raising the normal U.S. retirement age to 70 could cut the projected Social Security program deficit in half, the AAA, Washington, argues in new position statement.

“As life expectancy increases, the percentage of workers’ lives spent in retirement continues to grow, while the number of working years stays relatively constant,” the AAA, Washington, says in the position statement. “Inevitably, Social Security’s costs will exceed what its scheduled financing will support…. While Social Security’s financial soundness could be restored in many different ways, we believe that any solution package should include increases in the retirement age.”

Simply speeding up an ongoing effort that is increasing the normal retirement age for Social Security to 67, from 65, one month at a time could cut the projected program deficit 10%, according to AAA projections.

Keeping the current schedule of normal retirement age increases to age 67 – and then continuing to increase the normal retirement age by 2 months every year until it reaches age 70 – could cut the projected deficit 50%, the AAA estimates.

The AAA contends that the demographic problems facing Social Security appear to be permanent, not simply a temporary effect of the aging of the baby boomers.

“Long after all the baby boomers living have departed, Social Security’s income will cover only about three-fourths of its cost,” the AAA says.

The AAA attributes much of the increase to increases in longevity.

The average life expectancy for a 65-year-old man, for example, increased to 16.7 years in 2007, from 11.9 years in 1949, and Social Security program actuaries estimate average life expectancy for 65-year-old men will be 18.8 years in 2040, the AAA says.

For women, average life expectancy at age 65 has increased to 19.2 years in 2007, from 13.4 years in 1940, and could increase to 20.9 years by 2040.

The AAA represents about 16,000 U.S. actuaries in efforts to give government officials and other policymakers actuarial advice.

In the past, many labor groups and groups representing older Americans have criticized efforts to strengthen Social Security program finances by increasing the normal retirement age.

In the real world, older American workers tend to have trouble getting jobs because of employer discrimination, difficulties with maintaining up-to-date job skills, and employers’ concerns about the possibility that older workers might file more health insurance claims, increase critics argue.

Richard Johnson, a researcher with the Urban Institute, Washington, noted earlier this year at a future workforce forum organized by the AARP, Washington, that the average annual health insurance claim cost is more than $3,000 per year for workers ages 55 and older, and less than $2,000 per year for workers ages 25 to 44.