And you, of tender years
can’t know the fears
that your elders grew by
and so please help them with your youth
they seek the truth
before they can die.
Can you hear and do you care
and can’t you see we must be free
to teach our children what you believe in
make a world that we can believe in.
– “Teach Your Children” by Graham Nash
What do we find when we lift the cover of deficit hawks who use a bogus argument to cut entitlement needs for their own self-interests?
Genuinely sincere people who buy into the errant notion that we need to cut modest sums from safety net programs like Social Security and Medicare seem not only oblivious to how detrimental this is to the modicum of financial security such programs afford most retirees but appear unaware that they threaten their own financial security. By reducing the meager benefits the nation’s elderly garner from social safety net programs, those who buy in to this straw man argument actually create greater economic burdens for themselves.
Without these benefits children of elder parents will have to make up the difference out of their own pockets. If they are within that income category that is currently treading water to stay afloat themselves, this may prove difficult if not impossible. For those who can’t means that some elders would have to endure even greater economic hardships than they currently do, even with their Social Security benefits. More than a third of retirees (35%) rely almost exclusively on their SS benefits to pay bills with. Benefits that never really cover the rising costs of necessities like prescriptions, health care coverage and energy prices.
In a recent MSN/Money market report, Mark Miller points out that “Before Franklin D. Roosevelt created the [Social Security] system in 1935, seniors without money went to the poor farm, literally. According to one historical account, poor farms often resembled “a reformatory, [that] housed orphaned children, families, destitute elderly, physically handicapped, mentally unstable, morally corrupt, even criminals.”
Considering that today “45 percent of working-age households own no retirement account assets whatever” one might ask how well such people would fare in a Paul Ryan system that would risk low and middle income resources in a volatile stock market to build up any financial security for their retirement years. And it doesn’t appear that the ability to invest in or save for retirement will change anytime soon according to a recent study by Economic Policy Institute.
Despite the country’s general economic growth, EPI notes that more and more people in the United States are struggling to earn a living wage.
“According to our statistics, from 1983 to 2010 the bottom 60 percent of Americans actually lost wealth, despite the fact that the overall U.S. economy has grown over this same time period,” Ross Eisenbrey, the EPI’s vice-president, said Thursday. “This is a remarkable indictment of how the economy is not working for everybody.” SOURCE
Social Security has nearly eliminated the sort of abject poverty endured by the pre-Social Security trust fund days “by providing a nearly universal modest pension.” And calling it a modest pension may be overstating it.
Miller went on to point out that “the average monthly benefit for a retired worker was $1,260.” Hardly an amount that entitlement opponents portray as “greedy geezers” robbing today’s youth. A myth by the way being perpetuated by the likes of Wall Street billionaire Pete Peterson, former Enron Executive John Arnold and billionaire hedge fund guru, Stanley Drunkenmiller, to name but a few who are anxious to see people’s retirement savings being invested in risky stock market speculations rather than a secure trust fund that has minimally served the needs of poor retirees for nearly 80 years. If these people who clamor about “generational theft” are really concerned about the financial well-being of tomorrow’s youth, there is much that could be done to reduce the burden of student debt today.
EXPOSING THE DEFICIT HAWK LIE
When conservative talking points falsely insist that entitlement programs increase the national debt and raise needless alarms how this will irreparably hurt our economy, they are being dishonest and exploiting a misconception that has worked to their advantage for years. This misconception erroneously conveys that anyone on the government dole is essentially a dead beat. Of course this doesn’t reflect on us or our own parents. Just “those others” out there that people like Ryan and Mitt Romney have identified as takers, as if somehow some can be so easily distinguished from this group as being more deserving than others.
Social Security and Medicare are called entitlement programs because the beneficiaries are entitled to these benefits after contributing to them all of their working lives in the form of payroll deductions. Social Security adds nothing to the deficit yet those who try to convince us otherwise use Rube Goldberg tactics to obscure this fact. In an Op-ed piece in the NY Times back in January of 2011 rightfully titled “Raising False Alarms”, Bob Herbert pointed out the following:
As the Economic Policy Institute has explained, Social Security “is emphatically not the cause of the federal government’s long-term deficits, since it is prohibited from borrowing and must pay all benefits out of dedicated tax revenues and savings in its trust funds.”
The country is drowning in a sea of debt – not because of entitlement programs – but because of the obscene Bush tax cuts for the rich, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that have never been paid for and the Great Recession. (See chart above)
THE HAVES KEEP TAKING FROM THE HAVE-NOTS
We need to increase benefits, not decrease them lest today’s youth forsake their own financial security. But can such an idea take hold in today’s political environment where weak-kneed liberals seem only willing to fight off the efforts of the right to cut more from these safety programs and consider it a victory if they are able to salvage anything of one of the most successful social welfare programs human beings have engineered.
Income disparity in this country hurts a large number of people’s ability to tuck enough away for retirement. In fact, according to research by the economists Joelle Saad-Lessler and Teresa Ghilarducci, 49 percent of middle-class workers are on track to be “poor or near poor” after they retire. After working all their lives and making wages that were generally too low to cover needed daily living expenses, there was none left to put away for old age.
This is the future, not only in the near term for the retiring baby boom generation but for their children and grandchildren. At a time when the income gap between the wealthiest amongst us is greater now than in any other time in our history, preserving and expanding Social Security and Medicare becomes essential if we are to make a world we can believe in.
One that ignores the self interests of people like Pete Peterson, John Arnold and Stanley Drunkenmiller and instead promotes the values that built one of the greatest middle class cultures by allowing for a fair distribution of the wealth that springs from our labor. Conditions that don’t deprive the engines of free markets of their profits but do restrict unfettered wealth accumulation and with it the abusive power it carries with it.
“The rich are different. The cocoon of wealth and privilege permits the rich to turn those around them into compliant workers, hangers-on, servants, flatterers and sycophants. Wealth breeds, as Fitzgerald illustrated in ‘The Great Gatsby’ and his short story ‘The Rich Boy,’ a class of people for whom human beings are disposable commodities.” – Chris Hedges
Fear that comes from uncertainty prevents us from taking minimally evasive steps to secure Social Security and even Medicare beyond this generation and the next. We just need to muster the courage to fight back in the face of slick talking con-men who want to convince us that our money would be better spent investing in their risky ventures than the surety of the Social Security trust fund.
Today’s youth are tomorrow’s elders who like many today will face the same economic deprivations and failings inherent in any system that promotes profits over people and self-interest over the general welfare of all people. Was this not as much on the minds of those founding fathers who sought to form “a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility” … so that we could … “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity”?
By protecting these social safety nets now we not only prevent injustices for those who played by the rules yet still fell short of avoiding the poor farms of today, but for those of you who too will ultimately face similar experiences and realize when it’s too late that financial security as we age becomes something most people are never really able to acquire.
If I still haven’t made it perfectly clear for some of you of how we need to not only sustain Social Security and Medicare as well as expand it for the future and how not doing do is detrimental to today’s youth, please read Dale Coberly’s assessment of this issue, “How to Sound Insane by Talking Like a Bi-Partisan Expert on Social Security” over at the Angry Bear blog.