Tag Archives: Social Security

A Boomer’s Straight Talk

That’s a bit unfair,since Dave Lindorff (This Can’t be Happening blog) isn’t exactly the kind of person you’d label a boomer.He says he’s  turned 62. Even so, in this world of squirming,equivocating politicians and their Oh- so- smart expert slide rule advisors, his is a voice of passion about real things in real life. Such a relief after reading, or should I say, trying to read, all the sychophant journalists with their two bit sermons about how broke we are and how we all have to sacrifice.Do these guys seriously think this country is poor?

   Here’s a bit of Lindorff:

But here’s the thing. The reason these parties and lobbies are trying so hard now to use the recession and the national deficit as cover to decimate and destroy these two proven and critically important social programs into which all working Americans have been paying all our working lives, is that they realize what most 50 and 60-something Americans haven’t realized yet: that we are about to become the most powerful political force in the country, and that we are certainly going to demand both an excellent government Medicare program, and a decent retirement program.

Pres. Franklin Roosevelt signs the Social Security Act into law. Franklin Roosevelt signs the Social Security Act into law

The way I see it, we in the Baby Boom generation–those people born between 1946 and about 1964–are just starting to hit retirement age. In another 10 years, we will become a political force twice as powerful and certainly more than twice as noisy and demanding as the current senior lobby. We can either wait until then, after they have successfully gutted the two programs we depend on, making it so we have to fight to recreate or restore them, or we can start organizing now to defend and improve them, and save ourselves a whole lot of trouble.

Lindorff’s proposal,invoking what the Washington Post sneerlingly refers to as “common sense.”

Let’s start building a coalition of Baby Boomers, working through every conceivable organization–labor unions, churches, veterans organizations, alumni organizations, political chapters, etc.–with one goal: Defending and improving Social Security and Medicare.

Here’s the argument. Social Security is said to be in danger of “running out of money” in 2037, because there will supposedly be too many retirees drawing checks and too few younger workers putting money into the so-called Trust Fund. The Trust Fund itself had its trust broken by our politicians, Republican and Democrat, who have for years been raiding the money we put into it, leaving us with government IOUs. These IOUs, the Republicans and the corporatists now say, they don’t intend to honor. (The main reason for these raids has been to fund America’s imperialist wars, which the public never would support if they had to pay for them up front through higher taxes.) Well, first off, we need to demand that they honor those IOUs. Second, since that would mean raising taxes to fund our retirement, we need to demand that the money come not from our working kids and grandkids, but from the rich. It’s really an easy fix. Require that the FICA tax which pays for Social Security benefits apply to all income, not just the first $106,000 of income, and make it also apply to investment income, which currently pays no FICA tax. (I’m not talking about retirement investments. They can be exempted. I’m talking about regular taxable investment income.)

As for Medicare, which we’re told is going to run out of money sometime before 2017, the answer there is to stop making it a program just for disabled and old people, and to expand it to cover everyone, which is what President Obama should have proposed way back in 2008, instead of the outrageous health “reform” that was pushed through Congress and which is going to be undone by the courts anyhow.

 

Reader Response: How About Going After the Real “Fat Cats” Before Attacking Elders?

This morning I received a comment from Elizabeth Rogers in response to my posts about Senator Alan Simpson, the octagenarian elder-basher who co-chairs Obama’s Deficit Commission. Simpson has been making news with his comments about “fat cat” geezers who cling to their government handouts while younger generations suffer. I want to share it with everyone because Ms. Rogers gets to the heart of the whole entitlements question in a simple and direct way.

There’s a good chance this commission will end up proposing cuts in Medicare, along with steps towards privatizing  parts of Social Security. These have been heartbeat issues for conservatives running all the way back to the creation of Social Security in the New Deal, and has only grown since Congress created Medicare in the 1960s, after some arm twisting by LBJ. Doing away with these entitlement programs has been a cherished conservative idea, right alongside ridding the nation of  ties to the UN, ending the income tax, and abolishing the Department of Education, to name but a few.

In addition to destroying the social safety net, the war on entitlements serves to distract attention from the real causes of the inflated deficit. Elizabeth Rogers suggests some other sources of deficit-reduction that our politicians might want to consider before they start dipping into our Social Security checks. 

Retired Senator Simpson must travel in a very different crowd of older Americans than my husband and I do! We live in a compact 2 BR condo in the Pacific Northwest. Yes, there’s a gate, but our complex is very definitely occupied by middle class workers and retirees like us. At 73 I’m still working part time and thank my lucky stars that I have a job. My husband, now 80, worked until four years ago (he started working at age 14).

Lexuses? I don’t think so. Our small SUVs are over 10 years old and we hope they last as long as we do. Fat cats? Not exactly, although we do have an overweight feline in our family.

Seriously, although we have some additional resources, Social Security is a significant source of income for us, as I suspect it is for most recipients. That said, we get that the nation’s huge budget deficit is a serious problem.

We’d be willing to pay more taxes if the amount is fair and reasonable, but FIRST, how about: (1) pursuing the offshore bank accounts of billionaire tax evaders, (2) allowing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans to expire, (3) ending the UNfunded wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that are now costing in the trillions; (4) changing our culture’s views on end-of-life care so that Medicare doesn’t continue to spend huge sums on “heroic” measures to “save” those in their last 6 months of life. I have multiple advance directives in place because I have no desire to fall into the hands of the medical-pharmaceutical complex at the end of my life, but even so, I can’t be certain that I won’t. We need to get real about this issue!

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How Health Care Reform Hurts Older People

The health reform legislation before Congress contains a little noticed provision that allows an increase in health insurance premiums for those under 65.The idea is that as we age we cost the health care system more, but as  the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare notes “age is far from an entirely reliable predictor of health care costs, accounting for less than 20% of the variation in costs across age groups. A healthy 55-year-old may well consume fewer health care dollars than a 35-year-old who is obese or has diabetes. ‘’ As the Committee goes on to note:

The current House bill would allow someone 55 or older to pay premiums that are twice as high as a young enrollee (a 2:1 age rating). The Senate agreed to a 3:1 age rating, which would allow premiums to be three times higher for older people. In a recent briefing, Karen Ignagni, head of the American Health Insurance Plans that represents private health insurers, called for a 5:1 age rating. 

  All this raises a new question for the Congress: Will this age based rating system  coupled with a lack of serious public option, end up forcing older Americans to forego expensive insurance altogether.

 This is not just a numbers game. There is both a human and financial toll to be paid. A recent Harvard study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that American adults under 65 who lack health insurance have a 40 percent higher risk of death than those who have coverage. Ailing and uninsured people in their 50s and 60s will likely add to the strain on Medicare’s budget as they seek care for neglected health problems as soon as they become eligible for this entitlement. 

Old Prisoners Denied Their Social Security

AGING BEHIND BARS SERIES

From time to time, I’ve written about the growing numbers of older prisoners now filling up the country’s prisons and jails, in a series of posts called Aging Behind Bars. Many of these prisoners receive inadquate health care and are subject to special forms of cruel and inhuman punishment that have to do with age–i.e. requiring people with bad arthritis to climb to the upper bunk to sleep, or making it next to impossible for inmates in wheelchairs to access parts of prisons available to younger people, even including something as simple as handicapped showers. Among the worst incidents described to me by a medical consultant were ill women forced to get out of bed at 3 am,then stand in lines to obtain medicine in one Alabama women’s prison.

Older prisoners are also often denied the Social Security they earned for years before being convicted of a crime. Lois Ahrens, who runs the indispenable Real Cost of Prisons Project, alerted me to the situation of David Hinman, a prisoner in Iowa. Now 65, he contributed to Social Security for years while he was in the “free-world.” He is not eligible for parole for a number years. Hinman writes:

Currently the government will not pay people in prison social security. I am speaking about paying social security to those who paid into the fund. Payment is based on what they paid in. Even though I am now 65 and paid into the fund, since I am in prison I am not allowed to collect unless I am released from prison. By not paying inmates the social security to which they are entitled, I believe this is in some manner, theft.

My question to readers is: should prison inmates who paid into social security and reached 65 be allowed to collected social security while incarcerated or not.

(You can write to David Hinman, #25374, Anamosa State Penitentiary, 406 North High Street, P.O. Box 10, Anamosa, IA 52205-0010.)

Asked about this situation, Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News, the excellent magazine which tracks prison issues, wrote me:

Part of the problem I have with this is that someone can work their whole life, pay into Social Security, commit a crime at a later age, and go to prison for the rest of their life and never see a penny of the money they paid into SS. The lie used to justify this is prisoners have no need for money but that is not true. I think it is a backdoor way to trim the SS rolls. I think this is the exception. To put it into context, retirees can get their pensions in prison, veterans can get their VA benefits in prison. It follows that if you earn something you are entitled to it. It is not a freebie the government can take away because it doesn’t like you and that is exactly what they do here.

Wright attached an article from a 1998 isssue of Prison Legal News, describing a federal court decision on the subject, that sets the situation into the bleakest of terms.

The court of appeals for the Ninth circuit held that a statute denying Social Security benefits to prisoners is constitutional. Robert Butler is a 77 year old Nevada state prisoner. Butler was granted social security retirement benefits in 1983. He was later incarcerated and the Social Security Administration (SSA) determined he was not entitled to benefits while he was incarcerated pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 402(X). An administrative law judge affirmed the SSA’s decision. Butler filed suit in federal court and it was dismissed for failing to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The court of appeals affirmed. The appeals court noted that every court to consider the constitutionality of 42 U.S.C. § 402(X), this includes the Second, Fourth, Eighth, Tenth and Eleventh circuits, had upheld the law. Congress has wide discretion in administering welfare resources. The court held that § 402(X)’s ban on social security benefits to prisoners does not violate constitutional guarantees to due process, equal protection and protection against ex post facto laws and bills of attainder. The court also held that Butler was provided with ample due process before his benefits were terminated because he participated in the SSA hearing by telephone. Since the statute leaves no room for agency discretion and the only fact issue was whether or not Butler was a felon doing time in prison, the telephone hearing was sufficient to safeguard Butler’s due process interest in his social security benefits. See: Butler v. Apfel , 144 F.3d 622 (9th Cir. 1998).

Jim Jubak on How Wall Street Screwed Geezers: Part II

As I noted in my last post, there are millions of older Americans who don’t have time to “wait” for the market–and their own retirment funds–to recover from the current recession. Some of us have resigned ourselves to the fact that we’ll just have to keep working indefinitely. But as MSN’s Jim Jubak points out, it isn’t as simple as that.

Everyone I talk to glibly says, “Well, I’ll just have to work longer.” At what jobs? In an economy in which companies regularly find ways to replace higher-paid older workers with younger employees, most people won’t be able to stay at their current jobs. And in an economy that is exporting its meat-and-potatoes manufacturing jobs and their higher wages and generating mostly lower-paying jobs to replace them, post-retirement workers are going to be competing with a horde of anxious younger workers for even ill-paying, no-benefit, part-time work.

We need Washington to wake up and realize that, yes, we need to create jobs to pull us out of the current economic slowdown but we also need to create jobs to fix the holes blown in the retirement plans of tens of millions of Americans by this financial crisis. We need not just jobs now but a coordinated national effort—public and private—to create long-term job growth for decades to come.

Jubak’s argument about the absolute necessity of job creation to any recovery is a sound one. But even he admits that it’s already too late for some of us.

We also need to find a way to help those people who reach retirement age but who are in no condition to keep working. Working longer isn’t a solution for someone who isn’t physically or mentally able to work.

Don’t hold your breath while waiting for this “help” to arrive. With a shrinking economy and a growing geezer population, longtime opponents of “entitlements” like Social Security are already gearing up to oppose any further government support for old folks facing hard times.