Tag Archives: AARP

I Was Not a Victim of Age Discrimination at Work (Not)

When I was fired by the new owners of the Village Voice in 2006, after working there for 30 years, it had nothing to do with age discrimination. At least, that’s what the official documents say.  

For a number of reasons, I initially suspected that age had something to do with it. But I must have been wrong, because I later signed an agreement saying I had not been discriminated against on the basis of age. The document also happened to say that I would get some severance benefits I really needed, being 69 years old and suddenly jobless–but I’m sure that didn’t affect my decision to sign it.  

I have no doubt that the following scenario is experienced by thousands of older Americans who lose their jobs (though not, as I’ve mentioned, to me). They are pretty sure they know what is going on, and why. They discuss it with their attorneys, who are sympathetic but explain how difficult it is to prevail in such cases. The lawyers also tell them that the case could drag on for years–implying, though they don’t like to say so, that the geezers could be dead before it is resolved. So the geezers tell their lawyers to negotiate the best deal they can, and sign whatever they need to sign in order to get that deal. Or so I’ve heard. 

Age discrimination in the workplace (somethat that I, as I’ve said, did not experience), has always been notoriously difficult to prove to the satisfaction of the American justice system. But last June, the Supreme Court made it all the more difficult with its 5-4 ruling in Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc. The Court held that for workers to sue under the Age Discimination in Employment Act of 1967, they must prove that the employer would not have taken a particular action “but for” the person’s age. This sets age discrimination apart from all other forms of discrimination in the eyes of the law. As the New York Times put it in an editorial criticizing the Court’s decision:   

When employers discriminate, they generally do not admit it, so Congress and the courts have established calibrated rules of proof to give victims a fair chance. Generally, if workers can show that an illegal consideration, like race or national origin, was a factor in their being fired or demoted, the employer then has the burden of showing that it acted for nondiscriminatory reasons.  

That should be the rule under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, but the Supreme Court, by a 5-to-4 vote, decided that it is not. Older workers, Justice Clarence Thomas declared for the majority, have the full burden of proving that they were fired because of their age. That is an unfairly difficult standard, and it is an unreasonable interpretation of the law.  

Last fall, the Democratic chairs of three key Congressional committees introduced legislation that would “restore vital civil rights protections for older workers in the face of the Supreme Court’s decision in Gross v. FBL Financial.”  In announcing the bill, called the “Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act” (H.R. 3721), the sponsors stated: “In Gross, the Supreme Court rewrote civil rights laws, overturning well-established precedent and making it harder for workers facing age discrimination to enforce their rights.”   

Today, the Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Subcommittee of the House Committee on Education and Labor held its first hearing on the Court’s ruling and the proposed legislation. As the Legal Times blog reports:  

The AARP is supporting the legislation, and Gail Aldrick, vice chair of the group’s board, also testified today. Those registered to lobby on the bill include the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.    

Eric Dreiband, partner in a firm that does corporate defense work, testified in opposition to the bill, calling it a “broad and ambigous” measure that would “enable some lawyers to earn more money” but probably wouldn’t help older workers all that much. 

But Michael Foreman, who directs the Civil Rights Appellate Clinic at Penn State’s law school, called the proposed legislation a “fair, balanced, indeed conservative attempt to return the law to where everyone, the courts included, thought it was” before the Gross decision.  

The final testimony came from Jack Gross, plaintiff in the case that bears his name. At the age of 54, Gross was demoted by his employer, FBL–along with a group of other employees over 50 who refused to accept buyouts. He initially won his lawsuit against FBL, but it was appealed up to the Supreme Court, which decided against him. Gross told the Committee: “I hate having my name associated with the pain and injustice now being inflicted on older workers.” 

In the unlikely event that Democrats succeed in quickly passing the new law, it won’t come a moment too soon. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the recession has been terrible for older workers, who to all appearances have suffered more than their fair share of layoffs. In 2008, the EEOC saw a 30 percent increase in the filing of age discrimination charges, which outpaced all other types of bias claims. The numbers were so dramatic that the acting chair of the EEOC wondered whether “the public generally realizes that age discrimination is illegal.” 

It seems to me that even if they do know it’s illegal, much of the public–like the courts–don’t seem to take age discrimination too seriously.

But of course, I really wouldn’t know.

  

Simpson to Geezers: Bugger Off

On Tuesday President Obama formally launched a new commission that is supposed to bring down the national debt, in large part by investigating how entitlement programs, including Social Security and Medicare, can be cut back.

Obama told reporters at the White House he wouldn’t discuss the options at for bringing down the debt at this point. “We’re not playing that game,’’ Obama said. “I’m not going to say what’s in. I’m not going to say what’s out. I want this commission to be free to do its work.”

 The new commission, which is to file a nonbinding report by Christmas, has two co-chairs. Erskine Bowles, a former investment banker and Clinton chief of staff, is one of them. Alan Simpson, the quirky, conservative, longtime senator from Wyoming, is the other. The commission is supposed to be objective. But Simpson already has signaled that whatever happens, he wants to keep old people out of the process.

You remember the last time we corrected Social Security, and people calling me.  Let me tell you, everything that Bush and Clinton or Obama have suggested with regard to Social Security doesn’t affect anyone over 60, and who are the people howling and bitching the most? The people over 60.  This makes no sense.  You’ve got scrub out (of) the equation the AARP, the Committee for the Preservation of Social Security and Medicare, the Gray Panthers, the Pink Panther, the whatever.

In other words, the geezers should all shut up, since they will all be dead by the  time any entitlement reductions kick in. And what if they wanted to stick up for other old people in generations to come? Well, too bad. By the time those suckers hit retirement age, it’ll be too late to do anything. 

 

State of the Union: Obama’s “Automatic IRA” Plan Could Make Bush’s Wildest Dreams Come True

In tonight’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama is expected to propose what’s generally being called an “automatic IRA.” Under this scheme, the government would help set up a system of individual retirement accounts in which workers would be automatically enrolled if their employers don’t offer their own 401Ks. A minimum amount of pre-tax earnings–under current proposals, 3 percent–would automatically be deducted from employees’ pay and direct-deposited into their accounts. Individuals could increase the amount of the automatic deposits, or they could opt-out altogether. They would also have some choice about where to place their investments; otherwise, it would automatically be placed in what planners are calling a “diversified portfolio.” 

On the surface, it sounds like a sensible plan. AARP is supporting it, and says it could help some 50 million of the 75 million Americans whose employers offer no retirement plan.  It’s being touted as a “third way” or “common sense” approach to the retirement crisis–a rare bipartisan initiative, developed through a rapprochement between left and right. The idea emanates from a group called the Retirement Security Project (RSP), led by David John of the Heritage Foundation, who hammered out a joint scheme with William Gale of the Brookings Institution. It’s supported by the White House, and expected to breeze through Congress. The publication Life and Pensions reported earlier this week:

John, who is a senior research fellow with Washington, DC-based think-tank the Heritage Foundation, as well as holding a position on the RSP, said he welcomed the initiative’s inclusion in the state of the union address. Having the President speak about it on Wednesday will give it a far higher profile than it would otherwise get,” he said.

John said he expected the bill to have a fairly easy passage, given the lack of opposition. It was included in the 2009 budget, but the time taken over the controversial healthcare reform bill meant it slipped off the legislative agenda.

The presence of David John as the proposal’s spokesperson and primary architect ought to be enough to make progressives take a closer look at a proposal that’s promoted as an obvious no-brainer. With the exception of the automatic IRA, John is a sharp critic of Obama’s economic approach, including all of the other proposals the president is expected to outline tonight. “He’s basically giving tax money to people regardless [if] they have actually paid any taxes or not,”  John said yesterday. “And many of these [proposals] sound much better as they’re intended to than they would actually work in practice — so I think that some of those are going to have some severe handicaps.”

In addition–as a quick glance at his writing on the Heritage Foundation web site reveals–John was a huge booster of privatizing Social Security. The idea of privatizing this New Deal program, and turning over its billions to Wall Street, has been the fondest hope of the right since the days of the Reagan administration. Remember that it was just five years ago, in 2005, that George W. Bush made privatizing a portion of Social Security a centerpiece of his State of the Union address. Conservatives fought hard for this initiative, which would have diverted 2.5 % of Social Security withholdings into individual retirement accounts similar to those now proposed, and invested the funds in a similar “diversified portfolio” of Wall Street products. But the pubic, wisely, distrusted Bush’s motives, and by the end of the year, it was clear that he would never win broad support for the privatization plan. In the early months of 2006, the Retirement Security Project, under John’s leadership, began actively promoting the automatic IRA scheme. 

Is it paranoid to see the automatic IRA as a back door attack on Social Security–a foot in the door in the quest to cut entitlements? Maybe not. Unlike Bush’s plan, the automatic IRA would not take funds out of Social Security, but rather directly out of workers’ paychecks. But imagine, if you will, that at the same time, cuts are made to Social Security. Tonight Obama is expected to pitch his version of the fast-track “deficit reduction commission” recently proposed (and defeated) in the Senate, which clearly would set its sights largely on entitlements, including Social Security. So we could see Americans’ Social Security cut by a small percentage (remembering that raising the retirement age is, effectively, a cut), while simultaneously, a small percentage of their pay is deducted and invested in the private sector. And suddenly–presto–George W. Bush’s wildest dreams have come true.

There’s yet another facet to the automatic IRA plan, which would effectively channel not only worker earnings but also government funds into private retirement accounts. On Monday, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden addressed the Middle Class Task Force set up a year ago. Biden pitched the automatic IRA proposal, saying “It’s a simple proposition, but it’s a big deal,” and then outlined the plan for a government “match” of individual savings:

It also means simplifying and expanding the saver’s credit, which helped working families save for retirement by providing a 50 percent match on the first $1,000 of retirement savings.  So if you put a thousand bucks into a retirement account, your government is going to add even more — another $500.  It’s an incentive, but long term it saves the government a lot more money than the 500 hundred bucks put in if in fact we find we have a generation that’s able to care for themselves and not have to look to the government to provide some basic needs they need.  This will not only help build up a nest egg for existing savers, but it’s going to encourage workers who currently have no retirement accounts to start to save.

The matching tax credit, too, might sound like a nice plan, until you think about what it actually means: Instead of going into the U.S. Treasury, this money, too, will go straight to Wall Street, in the form of IRA investments in private retirement funds. And suddenly–presto–it’s yet another government handout to Wall Street. Even without the tax credit, there’s no doubt that the automatic IRA could be the best thing to happen to Wall Street since the creation of the pre-tax 401K.

It’s hard to fathom why Americans would want to dump more money into an IRA that will end up in unguaranteed mutual funds, so soon after seeing our private retirement investments take a beating in the recession. Just a year ago, we were all kicking ourselves for trusting Wall Street with our nest egss, and thanking our lucky stars that at least we hadn’t privatized Social Security. 

Nonetheless, the automatic IRA plan seems destined to forge ahead, steamrolling over other, more secure options. One such proposal was made by pension expert Teresa Ghilarducci, who suggested setting up accounts that would have a guaranteed government return and be run by the Social Security administration. (I outline her plan in my recent Mother Jones article on 401Ks.) But once again, the American government prefers to skirt direct responsibility for looking after its elders, and instead pass us off into the greedy, grasping hands of Wall Street–which will no doubt be laughing all the way to the bank.

Aging Right Wingers Revolt Against AARP

Today is the day that over-50 Tea Partiers across the country are supposed to burn their AARP cards to protest the group’s support for health care reform. At least, that’s what one right-wing blogger is encouraging them to do. As I mentioned in a post a few days ago, self-described “Tea Party Patriot” Sam Mela announced the “1st Tea Party Winter Fest for Health Care Freedom & AARP Card Burning”:

The Tea Party Movement is initiating a nation-wide AARP Card Burning, on the first day of winter, December 21, 2009. This is in response to AARP’s duplicitous stance in support of Congress’ attempted thievery of ample health care away from the American people. This response is being called for due to the fact that Congress has turned a deaf ear to the will of the American people, one of the most vulnerable groups of our society, our American Seniors….

Don’t forget your lighters, AARP cards and any other AARP printed material/mailings; home made cards a/or signs…you could even dress up like Santa, or his elves, Scrooge, Tiny Tim, whatever your favorite Christmas character…don’t forget your cameras & video recorders! If YOU don’t send this message NOW, the die will be cast!

It seems unlikely that more than a few stragglers will turn out in Santa suits today to torch their membership cards (and a good thing, too, since as one of my readers pointed out, the cards are plastic). When a West Virginia Tea Party organizer called for a day of AARP card burnings earlier this month, the only reports were of a half-dozen protesters huddled around a fire in the state capital.

That hasn’t stopped Republican politicians from picking up the battle cry. John McCain recently urged AARP members to trash their cards both in Arizona speeches and on the Senate floor. (To his credit, he told them to cut the cards in half and send them back to AARP, rather than burn them.) 

Though AARP has lost tens of thousands of members over the health care reform issue, that’s a tiny fraction of its 45 million total. President Obama and Democratic senators have been making much of AARP’s support for the reform legislation, leading Sam Mela, in a post yesterday, to lament the fact that “in terms of Public Relations and Public Perception, the AARP has been able to steamroll over the Tea Party movement, without encountering even token resistance, although it would have been a simple matter for the Tea Partiers to neutralize them at any time.”

Yet the behemoth group itself seems worried about losing the PR war in what they say is the most divisive issue it has ever encountered. At a press briefing in October, one AARP executive said that despite expending significant resources, it had been unable to unite its membership, while another declared, “We face a communications challenge.” A conservative  group, the American Seniors Association, is exploiting the opportunity, offering half-price memberships to anyone who mails in their cut up AARP card. And polls consistently show the strongest opposition to health care reform comes from the over-65 crowd. 

Although, unlike most reporters covering the subject, I am a member of the age group in question, that doesn’t mean I get what this resistance is all about. Or rather, I understand there being resistance–but it’s for all the wrong reasons. I’ve been critical myself of AARP for their cozy, lucrative partnership with the health insurance industry. And I get testy when I hear about big cuts to Medicare, knowing that the “reform” will only increase the profits of insurance and drug companies. But the reform bill throws seniors a few crumbs, which is about all it does for anyone else. And it’s no threat at all compared with the Republican dreams of remaking Medicare on a privatized model, along the lines of Bush’s Part D prescription drug program. 

Beyond these details, there’s the strange fact that all this resistance comes from right-wing old folks, who enjoy the only single-payer health care program this nation has ever known. As another reader of my previous post pointed out, “Courage would require that they burn their Medicare Cards and renounce that socialism rather than a meaningless protest against a non-governmental organization.”

Like the now-famous town hall geezer who told his Congressman to “Keep your government hands off my Medicare,” there’s some pretty nutty self-contradiction in the comments I’ve seen on the AARP revolt. One response to Sam Mela’s card-burning blog post attacked the organziation for being both a left-wing front and a corporate stooge: “I never have trusted this socialist orgainization that makes it money off of insruance commissions on its members.”

There’s half a grain of truth in this analysis. But somehow, it’s the red menace part that always seem to stick, while the real enemies of decent, affordable health care get a free pass.  In the end, I guess, it all boils down precisely the way it usually does in America: While a divided citizenry haggles over crumbs, the private companies take the cake.

Tea Party Attacks AARP

Some members of the Dick ArmeyTea Party faction have been twisting their guns around and decided to knock off AARP for what they see as its unprincipled positions on health care reform.

 The announcement in full that appeared today on the Tea Well blog:

 The Tea Party Movement is initiating a nation-wide AARP Card Burning, on the first day of winter, December 21, 2009. This is in response to AARP’s duplicitous stance in support of Congress’ attempted thievery of ample health care away from the American people. This response is being called for due to the fact that Congress has turned a deaf ear to the will of the American people, one of the most vulnerable groups of our society, our American Seniors.

burning1

AARP’s quid pro quo, and subsequent complicity in the advancement of legislation that will ultimately limit the availability of appropriate health care to their membership, America’s seniors, is beyond reproach. Not only will this Health Care legislation make medical care a commodity, but it will create a repressive tax burden upon already cash strapped seniors in addition to all other segments of the nation’s population.

To add insult to injury, both houses of Congress as well as the present White House Administration continues to arrogantly ignore those who write their paychecks, the taxpaying citizens of the U.S.

Therefore, it is necessary for the grassroots Tea Party Movement to call upon American’s of all ages to gather together in visible defiance of Congress’s henchman, the AARP. With the strength of numbers, we must delineate our opposition to obvious, deceitful greed of the AARP that assaults the country’s wellness of being.

We must send a concrete message, not only to the AARP leadership, but also to Congress and the administration by taking to the streets and burning our AARP cards. We must then cancel our AARP memberships in numbers that will not and cannot be ignored any longer. We must demonstrate to the powers that be, that we will not tolerate this legislative abomination, which will plunge the entire country into a severe “Winter” of medical depravation.

Unless we act in solidarity, the AARP will assist Congress in bringing about scarcity in cutting edge technologies and medicines. Unless we act definitively we will see a lack of availability to timely and appropriate medical attention, delivered by competent medical staff, which will heartlessly strand frail infants, seniors and infirmed in the desolate cold of a medical winter.

On December 21, 2009, ….join your local Tea Partiers and Seniors in the 1st Tea Party Winter Fest for Health Care Freedom & AARP Card Burning. Don’t forget your lighters, AARP cards and any other AARP printed material/mailings; home made cards a/or signs…you could even dress up like Santa, or his elves, Scrooge, Tiny Tim, whatever your favorite Christmas character…don’t forget your cameras & video recorders! If YOU don’t send this message NOW, the die will be cast!

Docs Discover New Socialist Plot

It took a couple of days, but sure enough, the hospitals and doctors recovered their senses to see the Reid-proposed Medicare buy-in as, Oh My God, back-door socialism. In place of an enfeebled public option, now beaten to death in the back rooms of the Senate, the Dems are  proposing to make the biggest single-payer medical enterprise in the United States even bigger. Never mind that the buy-in would cost more than most people could afford; it’s still a step down the slippery slope to socialized medicine. As the Washington Post writes Friday morning:

The 10 moderate and liberal Democratic senators who negotiated the tentative agreement regarded the buy-in as a compromise. They dropped the idea, central to the health-care bill adopted by the House, of a government-sponsored insurance system. Instead, the buy-in would provide a new public alternative to people within a 10-year age span.

Some critics characterize this approach as disingenuous. “This was in the context of an alternative to a public program, when [Medicare] is . . . perhaps the biggest public program in health care in the universe,” said Richard J. Pollack, executive vice president for advocacy and public policy for the American Hospital Association, which sent out an alert urging hospitals nationwide to complain to their members of Congress.

AARP, health insurance mogul and self proclaimed voice of the geezer, nixed the idea. From the same article:

“I just don’t see it being that popular,” said John Rother, executive vice president for policy and strategy for AARP, an enormous lobby for people 50 and older.

He and others said it remains unclear whether the program would be designed with the same health benefits, co-payments by patients, or access to private health plans and supplemental coverage as the rest of Medicare. Depending on such details, Rother said, “it’s not even Medicare, but that’s a brand name everyone likes.” Still, he said, AARP always has favored the creation of a buy-in, as long as it would not worsen the Medicare system’s already shaky finances.

Then came the kiss of death. Yesterday, Nancy Pelosi came out for the buy-in.

We Geezers Got Our Single-Payer Plan. Now Go Get Your Own.

I’ve written many times about  how Americans have been set up for a fake intergenerational conflict over supposedly scarce health care resources. The purpose of this phony competition is to distract us from the fact that the resources wouldn’t be so scarce to begin with if we reduced the profits of the insurance and drug industries.

It’s an old bait and switch tactic, and the mainstream media have fallen for it hook, line, and sinker. So instead of talking about greedy pharmaceutical companies that gouge people for drugs they need to survive, or greedy insurance companies that let people die to keep up their share prices, we’re all talking about the greedy old farts on Medicare who don’t want their services cut to pay for younger people’s insurance.

The latest take on all of this, as described in over the weekend in the New York Times, pits the old (over 65) against the not-so-old (50-64). The article focuses on the conflict within AARP, which has spent several decades hitting people up for membership the day after their 50th birthdays, and now includes members from both these warring age groups:

Its 40 million members are split about evenly between those who have access to Medicare, the federal government’s health program for the elderly, and those who are too young to be eligible for such benefits. The younger members, or those between the ages of 50 and 64, sometimes face terrible choices in the private insurance market, with age and declining health status making premiums high and benefits poor. But members 65 and older get among the most secure medical benefits in the country, and many are in no mood to share.

So this is what it’s come to, in the American health care system: Sickly 60-year-olds just trying to hold out until they can get their Medicare cards. Cranky old folks hoarding their Medicare benefits against the encroaching middle-aged mob. People eyeing each other suspiciously across the 65-year age divide, fearing and resenting one another.

Do you think people of different generations look at each other this way in Paris? Or in London, or Dusseldorf, or Adelaide, or Kyoto, or Ottawa? Of course they don’t. That’s because in those countries, EVERYONE HAS MEDICARE. In most of them, everyone has Medicare that’s better than our Medicare. They all carry around the same little card in their wallets–the one that shows their membership in their country’s national health service. And you know what they have to do to get that  card? They have to be BORN. That’s it. No age restrictions. No waiting periods. No physicals or tests or worries about pre-existing conditions. And no premiums to pay.  

I am more than sympathetic toward the plight of people in their 50s and early 60s. I know my own body started to give me trouble at about 55, and I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t had a job with health insurance. I’ve recently written about how the Baucus plan screws people in that age group by permitting insurance companies to discriminate against them. But the solution to these problems isn’t cutting Medicare benefits for people over 65–it’s giving Medicare benefits to people under 65. If everyone loves Medicare, and everybody’s just waiting and hoping and biding their time until they can sign up, why not let them do it now?

Some proponents of an incremental approach have actually suggested just this–opening up Medicare to ages 50 through 65, with some financial contribution from enrollees. And many single-payer advocates, myself included, have simply called for “Medicare for All.” Since single-payer health care systems deliver better care for 20 to 40 percent less money, there would be no need to cut services to any generation.

So as a member of the over-65 crowd and a card-carrying Medicare recipient, here’s what I have to say to younger Americans: We’ve got our single-payer plan. Go get your own. And since we’re not into intergenerational warfare,we will help you.Remember, we’re all in this together.