Bruce Bartlett is right: if someone takes early Social Security benefits (say, at 62), the amount of money they receive is less than if they’d waited. And, as Shelly X. Liang has shown, the lower benefits would put them below the poverty line.
Why, then, do people choose to retire early?
All Bartlett can come up with is ignorance:
Thus there is a huge financial price to be paid for drawing Social Security benefits early and an enormous payoff for delaying the decision to claim benefits. Unfortunately, I think many workers have a “use it or lose it” attitude, incorrectly thinking their benefits will be bumped up when they reach the full retirement age or ignorant that their benefits rise when receipt of them is delayed.
An alternative explanation is, they need the benefits at the age of 62—either because they can’t continue working or they’ve been bumped from their jobs or their earnings from the jobs they’ve managed to find are simply too low to live on.
And so they file for Social Security benefits and, as a result of the early retirement penalty, face the prospect of a lower income for the rest of their lives.