America: No Country for Old People

Yves here. Lambert long ago identified the solution that neoliberal answer to social safety nets: “Go die.” So if you get to be old, you must either be adequately well off or suffer the consequences of not having been mercenary or competitive enough.

By David Bacon, a journalist and photographer covering labor, immigration, and the impact of the global economy on workers. For this article, he received a Journalists in Aging Fellowship, a program of New America Media and the Gerontological Society of America, sponsored by The Scan Foundation. Originally published at Dollars & Sense

Is there a human right to age in dignity? Some countries think so. Unfortunately, the United States isn’t one of them.

The Organization of American States (OAS) recently adopted the first international convention on the human rights of older people (though the United States did not endorse it). The Organization of African Unity (OAU) is debating its own convention, and is expected to adopt it next year.

It is ironic that the world’s poorer countries, presumably those with the fewest resources to deal with aging, are in the vanguard of establishing this set of rights. Meanwhile, the richest countries with the most resources, including the United States and members of the European Union, are arguing against applying a human-rights framework to aging. In part, their contrarian stance reflects the dominance of market ideology. In a corporate economy, people lose their social importance and position when they are not working and producing value. In the United States, the resulting set of priorities has a devastating impact on older people.

While some countries are creating a new definition of human rights to include aging, and passing conventions that incorporate it, millions of seniors in the United States live in very vulnerable and precarious conditions, which are violations of their human rights as viewed in this context.

In another 15 years, 18% of the people in the United States will be over 65 years old. Though their numbers may be increasing, however, their security is not. In fact, the future of the nation’s elders is growing ever more precarious.

According to a recent study, “Senior Poverty in America,” by Rebecca Vallas, director of policy in the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress, 10% of seniors (4.6 million people) fall below this country’s official poverty line. In 1966 it was 29%. That sounds like progress. Vallas attributes the decline mostly to Medicare, Medicaid, and other programs established during this period. But this appearance of progress, she says, doesn’t account for the desperate situation of millions of seniors today. The programs have helped people, but their success at lowering poverty among some seniors masks the desperate situation of millions of others. The official poverty line is too low, has grown increasingly out of whack over the years from the real cost of living, and uses a faulty method (being originally defined as three times the basic food budget) that does not correspond to current spending patterns for low-income people.

The official poverty line defines poverty for a single person as an income less than $11,770, and for a couple, $15,930 (for Alaska and Hawaii it’s slightly higher). Rent alone absorbs a huge portion of this. Even seniors at 125% of the poverty line spend more than three quarters of their income on rent, Vallas found—$11,034 for singles, and $14,934 for a couple. It’s hard to imagine finding an apartment in many urban areas with rent that low.

According to Vallas, seniors across the board spend 14% of their income on medical costs. Adding that to rent, poor seniors are left with about 10% of their income for food, bus fares, and everything else. It’s no wonder that so many people in line at county food banks are old.

Even an income of twice the official poverty line is hardly enough to make ends meet, and the number of seniors under this line is much greater—32% of those over 65 and 40% of those over 75.

A better criterion for poverty is the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). The U.S. Census Bureau created this yardstick in response to criticism that the official poverty line grossly underestimates poverty (see Jeannette Wicks-Lim, “Undercounting the Poor,” Dollars & Sense, May/June 2013). The SPM is based on real-life expenditures for basic necessities like food, housing, clothing and utilities. It varies from place to place and isn’t meant to qualify or disqualify people for government programs. Vallas found that about 15% of seniors fall below this line, and 45% are “economically vulnerable”—below twice the SPM.

Poverty is no more evenly distributed among seniors than it is among people in general in the United States. Nearly 12% of older women (3.1 million) live below the official poverty line (vs. 7% of men), and 17% live below the SPM (vs. 12% of men), according to a 2015 Kaiser Family Foundation report. “The typical woman suffers an earnings loss of $431,000 over the course of a 40-year career due to the gender wage gap,” Vallas says. “The gap is even larger for women of color.” Black and Hispanic seniors are poorer in general—19% and 18% respectively are under the official poverty line, and 22% and 28% are under the SPM.

The income of seniors is overwhelmingly dependent on Social Security. The number of seniors who receive pensions from employers is declining rapidly, as corporations divest themselves of the “defined benefit” plans that, for an earlier generation, pegged payments to pre-retirement earnings for an earlier generation. Today, the average Social Security benefit is just over $16,000 per year—not far above even the official poverty line. “For nearly two-thirds of seniors, it is their main source of income, and for one-third it is their only income,” Vallas notes. Without it, half of all seniors would fall below the SPM.

The official poverty statistics do not even account for people who have been left out of the Social Security system entirely. Many workers do not make contributions, including workers in the informal economy, like day laborers.

Two million seniors get Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, which are based on low income rather than contributions made while they were working. But the maximum is $8,796 per year, well below the official poverty line. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), “for nearly three-fifths of recipients, SSI is their only source of income.”

Getting left out of the safety net has devastating consequences. As of 2010, roughly 45,000 adults over age 65 were homeless, according to Vallas, who projects that that this figure will increase by 33% by 2020 and more than double by 2050. The homeless population is getting older as well. The median age of single homeless adults was 35 in 1990, and 50 in 2010.

Immigration status is an even greater barrier to benefits. According to the Migration Policy Institute, about five million immigrants 65 and over make up 12% of the total U.S. immigrant population. For those who haven’t become citizens, the safety net has huge holes.

Most lawful permanent residents (LPRs) can’t receive SSI or food stamps (SNAP) for their first five years in the United States, although they can collect Social Security if they’ve managed to accumulate any qualifying earnings. People with no legal immigration status (an estimated eleven million people) can’t even apply for a Social Security card. In order to work they have to give an employer a Social Security number they’ve invented or that belongs to someone else. Payments are deducted from their paychecks, but these workers never become eligible for the benefits the contributions are supposed to provide.

The Social Security Administration estimated in 2010 that 3.1 million undocumented people were paying about $13 billion per year in contributions into the benefit fund. Undocumented recipients, mostly people who received Social Security numbers before the system was tightened, received only $1 billion per year in payments. Stephen Goss, the chief actuary of the Social Security Administration, told VICE News in 2014 that that surplus of payments versus benefits had totaled more than $100 billion over the previous decade. Excluded undocumented immigrants, however, get old like everyone else. Without Social Security, they have to find some other way to survive—primarily by continuing to work or relying on family.

According to Lia Daichman, president of the Argentina chapter of the International Longevity Alliance, and the ILA’s representative at the United Nations, “governments should guarantee that all people have a non-contributory pension, to be able to live without the support of younger people.” Her own country, Argentina, began paying nearly every old person a pension in 2003, with medical and social benefits, even those who made no contributions. “This is good for women,” she emphasizes, “because we often work in the home and weren’t able to contribute, or because we worked in the informal economy.” Even Nepal, one of the world’s poorest countries, has instituted a non-contributory pension of 700 rupees a month.

Daichman doesn’t view elders as needy people asking for charity. “People have a right to income and a dignified life,” she asserts. “They worked all their lives for it.” This perspective underlies her work trying to convince the international community to codify this right. The convention adopted by the OAS is a step towards the goal, she believes, in part because it will cover such a large area. In Latin America and the Caribbean, nearly 71 million people were older than 60 in 2015; by 2030 that figure will increase by over 70%, to 121 million people, according to a 2015 United Nations study of the aging of the world population. Adopting new definitions and conventions on human rights (especially economic ones), even if they are not immediately implemented, helps to set a goal—a vision of how we want the world to work. Passing human rights treaties is also an important step in establishing rights in international law.

The OAS convention enumerates 27 specific rights, with many sub-categories, from the right to independence, political participation, and freedom from violence to the right to a healthy environment. Some of the key rights it asserts are economic. Older people, it says, “have the right to social security to protect them so that they can live in dignity,” and governments should provide income “to ensure a dignified life for older persons.” Seniors also have the right to “dignified and decent work” with benefits, labor and union rights, and pay equal to all other workers. Older people have the right to healthcare, housing, education and to “participate in the cultural and artistic life of the community, and to enjoy the benefits of scientific and technological progress.”

The U.S. government does not recognize many of these rights, however—to housing, income, education, and healthcare, for instance. In this country these are all commodities, bought and sold on the market. Yet Social Security itself is a product of an earlier era in U.S. political life, in which President Franklin Roosevelt postulated that all people had the right to “freedom from want.” Today a “cost/benefit analysis” is the more likely framework—weighing the need to ensure a dignified life for seniors against the cost of providing it. Social welfare programs in the United States are the product of popular struggle against the inherent dynamic of a market economy to demand as high a rate of profit as possible. Old people, children, the disabled, and others who don’t immediately produce profit are a social cost, and vulnerable in a system like this. Popular struggle is necessary to demand their needs be met. When popular movements weaken, the safety net then starts getting pulled apart. U.S. opposition to a human rights treaty for the aged is based not on a lack of morality, uncaring politics, or bad intentions, but on the way the system functions.

In declining to endorse the OAS convention on aging, the U.S. government inserted a note declaring: “The United States has consistently objected to the negotiation of new legally binding instruments on the rights of older persons. … We do not believe a convention is necessary to ensure that the human rights of older persons are protected. … The resources of the OAS and of its member states should be used to identify practical steps that governments in the Americas might adopt to combat discrimination against older persons.” In other words, instead of having to abide by a binding agreement, each country should be free to do as it chooses.

As radical as they might sound to U.S. ears, these economic rights don’t even test the limits of the ways a globalized economy now affects the aged. Enormous movements of people, for instance, fleeing war and poverty, have led to the separation of families. UN conventions, and almost all countries, recognize the right to migrate because of war and persecution. Should this be expanded to recognize a right of old people to reunite with their families, if they’re separated by war or previous migration? Should the United States recognize the right of a migrant in California’s Central Valley, for instance, after a lifetime working in the fields, to travel home to Mexico, and then return to their family putting down roots in Fresno?

“Of course it should,” says Susan Somers, president of the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse. “All we need is a little political will. But get it into a convention? That’s a hard road, because of every nation’s immigration laws. We’re not trying to force countries to change their culture or ways of life. But when they come into conflict with harm, culture and tradition are no excuse.”

A proposed U.N. convention has been stalled over these disagreements, and Daichman and Somers say opposition is coming from the United States, Australia, Israel, and the European Union. “They are really trying to push us back,” Somers fumes. “They think it’s going to cost them something, and that older people aren’t deserving. Yet the budget item for treaties is so small compared to peace keeping and the Security Council—almost nothing.”

A growing and vocal constituency is not simply waiting for wealthy nations to come around, however. Among Asian countries, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Bangladesh, and even Myanmar have made statements about the human rights of older people. “Human rights are at the core of everything,” Daichman says. “The rights of people getting old should be considered human rights because they’re human beings.”

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  1. RabidGandhi

    To me the shocking part of this is less the US and more Europe.

    The US is at least being (abominably) consistent in its historical use of human rights, which it defines as political and not socio-economic (eg., it is not party to the ICESCR). Scholars such as James Peck and more recently Keane Bhatt have argued quite convincingly that the US government defends human rights only when they can be used as a strategic weapon against state enemies. Thus the fact, for example, that the Sandinista’s greatly improved the ability of Nicaraguans to access food, housing, healthcare and education was never part of the “Human Rights” debate in the US. In now treating their own seniors with the same stick as they have always treated the masses in their third world domains, they are at least being consistent.

    Most European countries, on the other hand, have consistently included social/economic rights in their legal systems, so this is a definite step backwards for them, indicative of the Thatcherite bent prevalent in Europe’s halls of power over the last 30 years.

    1. tony

      The cost of taking care of the old in a dignified way is mostly labour. Europe has lots of old people and expensive labour, the exact opposite of, say, Africa.

      Not only that, but the families have been destroyed and children grow up with more loyalty to their peers and possibly the state than to the people whose house they live in. Young people also know that they are required to save and invest and take care of themselves.They neglected the infrastructure, drove the European countries to the Eurozone, allowed wages to go down and mass unemployment to be created for the young. If the older generation did not save, well, that is their problem.

      Those of the older people who have the capacity to fight, have no desire since they have savings. And the young know there are not going to be pensions or any of that. Almost no one I’ve talked to under 30 believes there will be. So no reason to fight for the rights of those that sunk the ship and plan to die before things get bad.

  2. fresno dan

    The official poverty line defines poverty for a single person as an income less than $11,770, and for a couple, $15,930 (for Alaska and Hawaii it’s slightly higher)
    There’s your problem right there – to even put forward the proposition with a straight face that someone can actually survive on those sums – well, I would have more respect for someone saying that Nixon and Kennedy’s heads are alive and tended to by Elvis Presley using technology from captured space aliens at the Roswell, NM site, where by the way, the inflation rate is cooked up….

  3. Ishmael

    How about this. If you look at the standard federal deductions on the tax return you get $10,300 of deductions, $6,300 for standard deduction and $4,000 for an exemption and some states are even lower than the federal government. The govt starts taxing income before you even get above the poverty level. This is one reason it is so hard to move up into the middle class and save some money. What needs to happen in this country is the standard deductions need to be increased to something like $40,000 and the payroll taxes gotten rid of (the whole system is about to collapse anyway, asking people to pay into a bankrupt system is fraud). Of course the military industrial and security complex would need to be dismantled and worthless cabinet positions like education gotten rid of as well as a number of other departments.

  4. Jamie

    “People have a right to income and a dignified life,” she [Daichman] asserts. “They worked all their lives for it.” This perspective underlies her work…

    Ironic that even our allies seem so befuddled. Either income and a dignified life are our rights, or they are earned privileges. It can’t be both. As soon as you try to “justify” our right by saying we “worked” for it… it ceases to be a right and becomes an earned privilege, and the demand for recognition of our right, becomes a mere plea for reason and mercy.

    “Pity the poor old people, who deserve our protection and charity because they satisfy condition x”, can never have the same outcome as, “every human being has an equal right to the world’s resources.” Even though the pity program may make things marginally better in the short run, it does not challenge the status quo of power and wealth relations. We need a little less Adam Smith and a little more Tom Paine…

    1. PQS

      You hit the nail on the head with that one. Worked all their lives versus inalienable rights is the core of every single “social program” argument in America. Middle class Americans (and everyone in America thinks they are middle class) believe SS is an earned benefit – which it has been structured to be in America. So they deeply and loudly resent “welfare” and any “handouts”. Add in a helping of racism, total ignorance about how the system actually works, and here we are.

      I don’t see this improving in any measurable way at the political level. People will have to work locally to improve the lives of their neighbors and themselves. Co-operative housing, pooling of resources of elderly residents, home sharing, intergenerational housing, etc.

      1. Isolato

        SS is, of course, absolutely upside down. Those who need it the most get the least. Not to mention the absurdity of paying out to millionaires. OK, I mentioned it.

        1. Left in Wisconsin

          If you look at SS in terms of what people pay into it vs. what they get out of it, it is extremely progressive. I agree that there is no need to pay SS benefits to millionaires, and that there should be no cap on earnings subject to SS tax (and the first $15K or $20K should be exempt), but “means testing” a program in the US is a surefire way to reduce public support for it.

          1. Isolato

            You are probably right about means testing, sadly. But the illusion that “you are getting your own money back” rather than stealing the income of the next generation is a dangerous fallacy. 10% of seniors in poverty…bad. 25% of children…catastrophe. Oh, if only we had listened “From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs”.

            1. Jamie

              …the illusion that “you are getting your own money back” rather than stealing the income of the next generation is a dangerous fallacy.

              Yes it is an illusion that you are getting your own money back. It doesn’t follow that you are stealing your children’s income. SS payments are spent, therefore guaranteeing an income for our children (or at least a need for productive capacity which could translate into an income).

              1. jrs

                Maybe you are stealing your children’s or grandchildren’s income if you continue to work long after you could have stepped back and collected Social Security, when they are just getting started in the world need jobs.

                1. ambrit

                  That would be feasible if the SS payments for the majority of recipients guaranteed a ‘living wage’ for retirement. Sadly, it does not. If I live long enough to collect SS, we have figured out that I or Phyllis will need to continue working to achieve a better that subsistence lifestyle.

          2. PQS

            Exactly. Any Welfare Program = Always a Lamb to Slaughter in America

            Apart from Corporate and MIC Welfare, of course, which are always on the way to the trough.

    2. washunate

      Yep. It’s part of a huge intergenerational disconnect as inequality has become such a large problem, of older Americans trying to justify (often subconsciously) why they should be better off than younger Americans.

      The notion of a human right would apply to humans of all ages.

    3. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      If everything you do is considered work – meditation or caring for one’s children or parents, even breathing – if they honor those activities, instead of making you suffer the indignity and the shame of avoiding work by staying home or not contributing to the GDP, then, we do work all our lives, and everyone has a right to income.

      Denying you basic income is indignity once.

      Denying your activities are indeed work, that’s indignity squared.

      1. Jamie

        You make a good point, but I still prefer not to try to justify the right to an income, which in our society translates into a right to live, based on work. From my point of view, the fact that you were born human gives you a right to live, a principle enshrined (though poorly, given the sexism of the day) in the U.S. Constitution. Once you give up the notion that the circumstances of your birth were ordained by god, the entire justification for an equal share in the world’s resources derives from the fact that, at the moment of birth, no one else has any greater right to them than you do. How resources are divided up after that is entirely a matter of privilege.

        1. Jamie

          Sorry, I got really tongue tied there at the end. What I meant to say is that any unequal division of resources that occurs afterward is entirely a matter of privilege.

  5. Rick

    In terms of work, “old” starts well before 65, at least in the tech sector where I’ve spent most of my career. The age discrimination is blatant and severe. Even if it adversely affects the business (as in when key technical positions go unfilled for months), some companies refuse to even consider a candidate who’s over 40, 50, or (heaven forbid) 60.

    1. Russell

      “What a drag it is getting old.” -Rolling Stones
      Ben Franklin retired at 40. Smart guy. 200 pounds a year was it, in times of stable money from printing money. Smart guy.

      35 to 55 are your best working years, but at every advance in earnings I ever experienced the rent was higher for where I had to be to get the money. Then if you were not in an organization you would be put out of business.

      The struggle to pay the rent wiped out and wipes out whatever prospect of saving might exist over and over again as pre bubble bursting over and over money flows towards deeds to the hands of the newly minted rich.

      The Gore Clinton economy was known for what it was before it collapsed. Those who had money to spend bought places and raised rents.

      The bail out money went into buying deeds and raising rents. No way was the paradigm of a false GDP to be challenged with real business protections from Wall Street. Take apart all functioning businesses and sell the parts buying off the principals and throwing people out of work in the US so that Corporation China with its peculiar system of rewards messes with the London and Wall Street vision of corporate dominance.

      Timkin or Timpkin Gears is in my mind.

      Even in Washington DC where there are high paying jobs all over for the certified ignorant and willing, what will they have left if not the few to land 10 years of 150,000, and buy an apartment building and jack up the rent?

      Rent and Baubles. My textbook said that was the sign of collapse.

      We must also see the unaccountability of the Military Complex even expanded since the JFK coup killing as a sign that the US military knows it is the enemy of all working people, in and outside of the borders of the nation.

      The engineering of crisis means that the plans for martial law which would put all money & power fully in the hands of the military complex which would spend it as fast as it was printed protecting private property, which would be out of reach of the old who would then after three months of closed pharmacies be winnowed down.

      Fearful youth all numbered would be installed in more of the rent producing property. Some rent control would appear? Housing for the military personnel?

      Well screw it, just look at Haiti. Whatever and however the elites of Haiti get on in luxury, will be done. But then Haiti and any of this line of thought functions as if the next 50 years will stay closer to what has been than it looks like climate change & population growth will allow, reducing time to make any older systems updated or newer systems to take hold.
      P.S. I nearly junked this entire post. When the Government pays the rent, the places go to hell. When the rent is high as hell the place may be kept up, but a stumble and you are out. Rent Control in NYC seemed to work a little. Most of the time for better it comes to Co-Ops.

  6. washunate

    There is an underlying assumption in this kind of approach that is understandable but flawed. Old people are not uniquely impoverished or oppressed or forgotten in the US.

    Quite the opposite, poverty specifically, and inequality and oppression and indignity more generally, affects Americans of all ages. According to the government’s own data (such as the Fed’s consumer finances survey), older Americans have become wealthier relative to younger Americans, not poorer, over the past three decades. The two-tiered justice system has a disparate impact on younger households. And then of course there is Medicare, a great deal for people 65+ that is completely inaccessible to people under 65.

    1. crittermom

      I’m a (long ago) divorced woman who had to take early retirement (age 62) after Chase bank took (stole) my home & my future income related to it.
      I’m currently receiving $826 mth SS & on Medicaid.

      When I turn 65 this Fall, I will be switched to Medicare. That means I’ll be losing all dental & foot benefits while in turn having a co-pay for other coverage. Medicare will be taking $121 mth out of my SS, so I’ll then be down to an income of $705 mth.

      So you see, not all of us fall into that “retired & wealthy” class you think we do.

      The reason my SS is so meager?
      I was a mother who valued my child above all else, so stayed home (as agreed upon by my then husband before we ever started a family) until he reached school age. No SS earnings for me those years.

      Following divorce I was a single parent working full time, making less than a man, of course. (So less SS paid in)

      In later years I was working as a “casual” for a large company when they offered me full time employment for great money & a future pension.
      The catch was that I’d be working every weekend, all holidays, & nights until my son had graduated high school before I had enough seniority to bid for a day shift.

      He was about to enter his teens & I saw my absence would basically mean he’d be raising himself, so once again I made a sacrifice on his behalf by declining the position & taking a job for much less money & no fat pension so I was able to work weekdays & still have my hand in parenting. I chose my child over money.

      That sacrifice for my child has left me in poverty in later years, but I will never regret it.
      He turned out to be an awesome human being & member of society who’ll soon turn 40.
      Married, good job, no drug or alcohol problems, no criminal record.

      A girlfriend of mine made big bucks & got the big pension (now living retired on $44,000 yr with a house paid for), but both of her kids paid the price, perhaps?
      Both are slightly older than my son, but hers are meth heads, raising kids of their own who are already getting criminal records with drug & alcohol problems of their own.

      So while I may be poor, I am a proud parent because I still believe my sacrifice was worth it.
      (And I must have raised him right. He & his wife attended the caucus in Denver in support of Bernie).

      But please don’t think we’re all retired & enjoying all the benefits of Medicare & life is easy.
      I’ve never been this poor in my life & I’m too old to “start over”. Especially in this economy.

      1. Clive

        My neighbour made the same choice as your friend and, I’m sorry to conclude, did pay the price in terms of her children’s wellbeing and development. She made £100k a year working at a TBTF during her “prime” (aged approximately 30 thru’ to 45-ish) until her lovely employer heaped so much pressure on her that it was tantamount to forcing her to quit. By which time her family were teenagers.

        But the damage done to her sons was set in. They were basically left to fend for themselves between the ages of 5 to 15 and rarely saw her. When she was at home, she was so exhausted that all she could do was catch up on sleep. Her sons failed academically and this is no country to be unqualified and doing minimum wage jobs. You can see their trajectory and life chances and it isn’t a pretty picture.

        Anyway, one anecdotal story, like a swallow, doesn’t make a summer, but for what it’s worth, I think you made the right trade-offs. Oh, and if I win the lottery, I promise I’ll buy you a house. Slim (like, negligible) chance but you have my word. Pretty feeble, considering, I know, but I hope it means something anyhow.

        1. crittermom

          Clive, the offer does mean something to me & I appreciate it. That’s very sweet of you!

          But as Lambert once commented back to me on here, “Put your own oxygen mask on first”.

          If you win the lottery, secure your own future financially.
          Unforeseen circumstances (such as unscrupulous bankers & a govt that sits by & watches “the show” go on), can take your feet out from under you in the blink of an eye, so take care of yourself first.
          Thank you for your heartfelt offer, tho’. It meant a lot.

      2. washunate

        I understand this is an emotional topic, but I don’t follow your logic?

        I said Americans of all ages deal with serious problems. You counter that I think all old people are retired and wealthy. I don’t think we disagree? My beef is with the framework of the post that feeds an understandable but inaccurate perception that the economic struggles of older Americans are somehow unique rather than part of the larger story of preventable suffering of Americans of all ages.

        1. Clive

          At the risk of wading in to too deep water, as I get older I am increasingly aware that I become far more vulnerable to an economic setback than I was when I was younger because the opportunity to earn my way out of trouble is much reduced. Aging — and its consequences — are undeniable and material facts to how inequality affects people.

          But I do agree, nothing is served by getting into a “best worst” competition.

        2. crittermom

          This was intended in reply to washunate:
          I’m sorry. Perhaps I got a bit off topic, but when you mentioned “…there is Medicare, a great deal for people 65+…”, it hit me as sounding like a free program that provides all medical, which it’s not.
          I’m terrified of having even more of my income taken, knowing I’ll have even less coverage, plus co-pays, in return.
          I’m already receiving offers for additional insurance, which I’m finding most my age have, to supplement Medicare. That same girlfriend mentioned how her husband carries that (he’s on Medicare), & how “this coverage is only $42 mth, & this one is another $38 mth, & this one…”. With their high income, it’s a great deal for them. (Tho’ her husband recently broke & tooth, requiring a $1,600 crown which he thought was covered by his additional insurance policy. It turned out he was one week away from any coverage, as you had to pay in for a year before coverage begins. Gee, what a deal).
          What I hear is how will I pay the electric bill, or how can I afford firewood (my only source of heat), if I’m looking to survive on an income of $121 less each mth, while adding even more bills?
          What I see are programs that require more money from my already meager income, & quite frankly, it terrifies me.

      3. Elizabeth Burton

        Same here. The most I ever made in one year was a little over $18K working for a “major metropolitan newspaper” that was the flagship for a major media corporation. I had to drive my daughter’s car because I couldn’t afford to buy one, and when the company finally added a parking lot for staff we had to pay a monthly fee to use it.

        Rent on our 1 BR, 685 sq. foot apartment has increased by 10% the last two years running, and there’s nothing to indicate it won’t happen next year, too, since we live in one of those rapidly gentrifying tech-heavy cities. Should anything happen to my husband, I’ll probably have to move back north and park with one or more of my children, because there’s no way I could survive here. And northern climes aren’t beneficial to my post-polio syndrome.

        And it’s not like any of them have the room to spare.

  7. hreik

    This represents a failure of moral leadership. Capitalism in the extreme without safety nets for the poor, ill or old. And heaven forbid one of these old people becomes demented, as my mom did. Thank goodness she had enough money for the last 10 years of her life though we used it all up (and then some) making certain she had coverage 24/7 due to her dementia.

  8. Jim Haygood

    So things are bad? Well, they’re about to get even worse:

    “The unfunded liabilities of the various federal employee pensions systems, covering civilian and military employee benefits, amount to about $3.5 trillion, or 20% of US GDP,” a release from Moody’s said Wednesday.

    “Additionally, Moody’s estimates that unfunded state and local government pension plan liabilities are of the same magnitude, bringing the total shortfall to 40% of GDP.”

    Moody’s also said public pensions were only one piece of the growing retirement problem in the US.

    “The bigger challenge to the US comes from the unfunded liabilities for the Social Security and Medicare programs,” the report said. “The Social Security funding gap is estimated at $13.4 trillion, or 75% of GDP, while the shortfall from the Hospital Insurance component of the Medicare program amounts $3.2 trillion, or 18% of GDP.”

    That means between the pension shortfall and the benefits shortfall, the US government is $20.4 trillion short in funding for retirees.

    Why do the federal and state governments get away with shortchanging pension promises? Because they exempt themselves from their own law (Erisa) which obliges pension sponsors to keep them funded.

    Even as we speak, the Labor Dept. is promulgating long-awaited regulations imposing a higher standard of fiduciary duty on brokers who sell retirement products.

    HEY, how about imposing a fiduciary duty to beneficiaries on the Social Security trustees?

    *sound of crickets chirping*

    1. Paul Tioxon

      You forgot the unfunded liabilities of a global military occupation force and ongoing warfare against terrorism, and other spots that heat up and require military response by land, sea and air. The unfunded War Mandate is the real problem. Due to the fungible nature of line items on the federal budget, we keep picking on things like Medicare, Social Security and Federal Pensions as unfunded mandates, when really, the military budget takes the funding but is never given Congressional Authorization to levy war against global threats to our national security. The pensions, and Medicare and Social Security are fine, it is the Pentagon that keeps taking the money away assuming they are funded mandates, when they are the real unfunded and un-mandated line items on the Federal Budget that needs to be addressed. The Pentagon is a ticking time bomb. Tic Toc, time to pass a Corporate War Tax.

    2. Ishmael

      Moody’s as usual is underestimating the problem. Remember what happened to S&P when they lowered the credit rating of the US, so of course Moody’s is going to under estimate the problem. The unfunded liabilities of the US Govt is somewhere between $100 trillion to $200 trillion. That number does not include state and local governments. The top number came from a study by a professor at Boston University. Not saying it is correct or not. The US is basically the walking dead. Other western governments are even worse.

      There is no difference between a PE firm, a Hedge Fund and a govt unit. They both exist by spending OPM — Other People’s Money. I still am amazed that people want to give the govt more power. Governments in generally excel at two things –killing people and putting them into jail. In general the type of people who are attracted by the government are — GRIFTERS!

    3. Masonboro

      SS and Medicare can never be a problem as they are obligations the US owes in it’s own currency and ,as any MMT-er can attest, are supported ,if necessary, by some combination of taxation and money creation – which is why the 1% hate the programs. Another solution is simply to pay SS/Medicare obligations before any military expenses. There I fixed it for you.

        1. Skippy

          FX pegs and debt nominated in FX….

          Skippy…. Neoliberalism has been looting – asset striping South – Central America for a long long time…

          1. Ishmael

            Skippy — why FX pegs, because these countries have had a history of printing money. Accordingly to attempt to give some sense of stability they have attempted to peg their currency to the US dollar but then they continue to print money and the real exchange rate starts varying dramatically from the posted exchange rate. If finally gets so bad that the peg has to be removed as recently happened in Argentina and then dramatic inflation catches up.

            Also very little to do with neo-liberalism. In fact it is exactly the opposite. For much of these countries recent history they have been socialist states. Now some would argue about the Perons but basically the name of their party translated from the Spanish was the Social Justice party. Brazil was lead by Lulu who was a socialist and Chavez was basically a socialist/communist.

            1. ambrit

              And what’s wrong with being Socialist/Communist? (As many here will attest, we live in a Socialism for Big system. It seems to be working out just fine for the ‘Bigs.’)

  9. Gaylord

    Catastrophic climate disruption and chaos will soon render life miserable or unbearable for most if not all humans. Many of us older folk will seek the option of self termination, letting the younger ones struggle against insurmountable odds to survive. I am prepared with a simple, clean, pain-free method, which ironically is a major cause of GHG concentration in the atmosphere (due to a social taboo, you’ll have to guess what it is). I will just go to sleep and not wake up.

      1. cnchal

        Carbon monoxide.

        Gaylord, snap out of it. If it gets that bad, throw a heavy brick through the window of a bank, and wait for the cops. When they let you out, do it again. Go down fighting the fuckers.

  10. Greg

    Maybe the MIC war machine should be funded by taxes collected from International corporations since the average citizen doesn’t benefit from our Imperial occupations overseas.

  11. rfam

    You need out of the box solutions to this problem. More taxes can’t be the answer to every new “right” that comes along.

    So here’s one, at least for the U.S.:

    Instead of starting social security savings when you begin to work, start when you’re born and make clear the value of that future annuity and current value. Also, allow people to contribute to that fund, outside the payroll tax, increasing the value of the annuity. This does not need to be about eliminating social security as a program and investing the money in mutual funds. Stick with long term government bonds with maturities that have some relationship to retirement age.

    This does a few things:

    * takes advantage of the power of compound interest from the day you’re born rather than the day you start being taxed (payroll tax).

    * if it makes you feel better for this to be a public program, fine, but make it separate and transparent so that people have a sense of their income in retirement and what contributing to it aside from the “born” value and the payroll tax means for their future.

    * avoiding risk by using government bonds takes out the need to pay a fee to manage the money and/or make bad or good asset allocation decisions. Just decide whether to contribute more than “born” and “payroll”.

    There’s an initial tax needed for the “born” benefit but I think it becomes self financing as people retire and pay taxes back to fund the born benefit (think long term). Not everyone will have the same annuity just as it is not with the existing social security program. Plus, I think unlike so many other things, its potentially bipartisan.

  12. ChrisPacific

    I am a New Zealander married to an American. I was having a chat to my wife about our respective cultures and mentioned that the fundamental idea underlying each of our value systems is different. Americans value freedom above all, while New Zealanders believe in fairness.

    She agreed, thought for a moment, and then said sadly: “I used to think they were the same thing.”

    1. OregonJon

      Yet freedom and fairness are not mutually exclusive. To our founders freedom was freedom from government interference into our daily lives, but that cannot be maintained. People in government (I am member of our city council) want to govern and believe the prudent government can make it better for all. That sounds good but in reality prudent government requires a omnipotence that humans lack.

      Fairness means what? It seems a fluid definition that pays homage to the fad of the day. No, we should not discriminate based on race or sexual preference, but to my way of thinking is largely because of freedom. Humans are complex, one should have the freedom of choice, but that is not fairness but freedom.

      Where I become concerned is when the government steps in saying that bathroom must be segregated by gender and gender is an optional choice for each individual. OK, why not define bathrooms by external genitalia, rather than gender. We used to call that sex, i.e. male or female. Indeed, the human condition is not binary and not every person is clearly one or the other so a category and bathrooms labeled “other” is fine with me.

      Freedom is not forcing our preferences on others. Neither is fairness. May they live happily ever after.

  13. Rich

    “Is there a human right to age in dignity” — no of course there isn’t!

    You live – you buy – you die!

    End of story

    Thank you

  14. Rich

    “Is there a human right to age in dignity” — no of course there isn’t!

    Once society has drained all possible value from you, you will be allowed to starve to death in one of the royal parks!

    You live – you buy – you die!

    End of story

    Thank you

  15. equote

    As Yves and Rich imply put yourself in the shoes of a Capitalist. What policies are in your interest — perhaps Labor Policy should be structured to insure a left skewed distribution of the working class by age. Most of that class should die before they are 65 years of age (or the age at which the safety net ‘pension’ begins). This can be engineered by a lack of worker safety laws, lifestyle, stress and environmental engineering and limiting medical services. The age distribution of the ‘working’ class is important in that it reduces business, governmental and or family costs to maintain unproductive older and non-working people, directly or through insurance/annuity programs. The birth rate and death rate of the non elite population, must reach equilibrium to be economically efficient.

    1. ambrit

      You have figured the present regime out. What’s next is the truly scary part; enforced ‘retirement’ of the ‘surplus’ population.

  16. allan

    It turns out, neither is China:

    Rural China is no country for old people [Science, subscr. req.]

    Worldwide, suicide rates are highest among people over 70. But in rural China, experts call the rising suicide rate among elderly people—now about 47 per 100,000 people—a public health crisis. The epidemic’s roots lie in the unraveling of traditional family life in China. As economic development and urbanization lure able-bodied young people out of villages and into China’s massive migrant workforce, many elderly people are left behind to fend for themselves. Beginning next year, the central government will gradually hike the official retirement age—a move that could help many seniors feel less isolated and more valuable to society. But those who study China’s elderly say much more must be done.

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