Sunday, February 20, 2011

Greedy Geezers

[Note: Because of some glitch in my computer, I can't find the graphics I've downloaded over the past couple of days. That's why there weren't such features as Friday Cat Blogging, Bonus Critter Blogging, or Sunday Funnies this week. I'll be working to figure this one out so that those features return next week.]

It's been a tumultuous couple of weeks in the Middle East and the Midwest, and I've been as transfixed by those events as most of the rest of my friends have been. Still, there are a lot of other issues which need attending to and it's time to do a little more multitasking. Big on that list is the continuing attempts by our owners and their minions to destroy Social Security and Medicare.

I appreciated the fact that the Los Angeles Times saw fit to publish this opinion piece by Susan Jacoby, who is the author of "Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age." In her essay Ms Jacoby demolishes some of the lies being catapulted by the critics of Social Security and Medicare in order to gin up the intergenerational warfare which will make dismantling one of the finest achievements of the 20th Century possible.

The main lie exposed in the piece is that those now receiving or soon to receive those benefits are a bunch of wealthy and greedy bastards who want to have their cake and eat it. This lie, that of "greedy geezers", whether spoken openly (as former Senator Alan Simpson did) or merely implied, is behind much of the current rhetoric ripping away at one of our best safety nets.

The archetype of the greedy geezer is based partly on a misconception about today's oldest Americans: the World War II generation. The frequently repeated statistic that 75% of all assets are owned by people over 65 is utterly misleading, because those assets are held in a minority of very rich hands. Nearly half of older Americans receive no income — none — from assets such as stocks and savings accounts. Of those who do, half receive less than $2,000 a year.

Three-fourths of those over 65, according to a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, have annual incomes, including Social Security, of less than $34,000. Furthermore, household income drops precipitously with every decade, and most of the poor in their 80s and 90s are women, who — unless their husbands possessed vast wealth — are very likely to become poorer when they are widowed.

Those facts are even more dramatically different than the "facts" promulgated by the critics of Social Security for those of the Boomer Generation who are just now entering the program. Most of this generation didn't have the benefit of pension plans provided by their employers. Instead, they had 401ks which were decimated (if not completely wiped out) by the cataclysm of 2008. Many of the earlier generation owned their homes, which was a significant source of post retirement wealth. Many of the Boomers lost their homes in the same cataclysm.

Now, the next generations were just as hard hit by that same cataclysm, plus they are facing the burden of ever more expensive health care. It's no wonder that the younger workers are lapping up the lies. They are as fearful as their elders, and for many of the same reasons.

The post-1935 intergenerational social contract, which depends on the willingness of young workers to pay for the dependent old, may crumble in the next 20 years unless the healthcare needs of young Americans are also addressed. Reworking the contract, and the programs that depend on it, will require aging boomers to recognize the financial stresses of younger workers, and the young to tell mean-spirited public figures like Simpson that Social Security is not a luxury but a permanent responsibility for all Americans of all generations.

And that will happen only when those mean spirited public figures are confronted on their lies each and every time they utter them. It will take many more frank essays like Susan Jacoby's to accomplish that, but it's a very worthy start.

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Blogger filkertom said...

Excellent overview of the situation. Simply excellent.

9:22 AM  

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