Friday, January 27, 2012
Working Into the Grave
Believe it or not, there was a time when, if you turned 65 and retired, you could expect to live in reasonable comfort. Social Security covered a portion of your expenses; your savings account yielded a modest amount of interest, and, if you had made investments, stock dividends provided a safety cushion. Not so anymore.
“More Elderly Find They Cannot Afford Not to Work” was a January 21 headline of an article in The Wall Street Journal, noting at one point that an 87-year-old woman who had retired in 2003 was now earning $7.25 an hour, four hours a week, collecting tickets at a movie theatre in my former New Jersey hometown. I had lived there for 62 years.
Thanks to ever-rising property taxes, I sold my home before prices plunged in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. I parked the money in an annuity.
I am fortunate that there is no age limit on the ability to write for a living. The writing trade has always been a tough one. The former market for magazine articles is a shrinking pool paying little for one’s labors. Self-published books, particularly fiction, have flooded the marketplace and mainstream publishers rely on older, established authors with a following. As often as not, bestselling non-fiction is written by people who anchor television news or have some other form of celebrity.
As the Wall Street Journal article noted, “In 1981, Social Security paid 52% of the average worker’s pre-retirement earnings, according to the Social Security Administration.” I turn 75 this year and my Social Security is little more than “grocery money.” Interest on my savings account is a joke.
For too many of my fellow senior citizens, not working is not a choice The Wall Street Journal notes that “The unemployment level among Americans 75 and older—measuring the number of people seeking work—is relatively low but twice what it was five years ago. The rate was 5.6% last year…compared with 2.5% in 2006.”
When I was born in 1937 it was in the depths of the Great Depression. I have lived long enough to be swept up along with everyone else in the Great Depression 2.0.
Naively, I and many others of my generation thought the years of economic growth that began in the 1950s would go on forever. We survived a number of investment “bubbles” and predictable, but short-lived recessions, but this one is different. It has been exacerbated by an ever-growing federal government, job-killing “environmental” regulations, and burdened by “entitlement” programs whose cost understandably keep increasing along with the nation’s growing population of older Americans.
“”Federal spending on Social Security and Medicare is rising,” said the Journal article. “both in total dollars and percentage of the budget. Social Security made up 20% of the federal budget in the 2010 fiscal year, up from 13% in 1962. Combined spending on Social Security and Medicare represents 9% of GDP and is projected to grow to 12% in 2035.”
The nation’s debt now equals its Gross Domestic Product. The U.S. is broke and so are Europe’s nations with the exception of Germany. That is simply not sustainable—something the Congressional “super committee” discovered when it punted on any solution to the nation’s fiscal woes.
Part of the problem is the nation’s aging population. No one anticipated that health care would improve to the point of extending people’s life expectancy from 65 in the 1930s to an average of 78 years today. As it is, both my parents lived into their 90s, I have an older brother in his 80s, and a nephew in his late 40s who just became a father again.
We can thank short-sighted “social justice” programs such as Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s appalling “sub-prime mortgage” programs and “bundled assets” that sank banks from sea to shining sea. The U.S. taxpayer has had to bail out these two “government sponsored entities” to the tune of billions and they keep coming back for more.
In the space of just three years, President Obama has increased the nation’s debt by five trillion in horribly misspent, wasted dollars. Since 2010 when control of the House was returned to Republicans, they have fought against pressures to raise taxes that would suck more money out of the economy and have put forth sensible plans to restructure Social Security and Medicare. Naturally, they have been accused of being heartless.
Any senior citizen who votes for Obama or a Democratic Party candidate is putting themself at further risk of having to work until they die or seeing their savings eaten by illness or other rising costs before that occurs.
Editor’s Note: The author’s editorial services site is here.
© Alan Caruba, 2012