Friday, May 30, 2014

Selfish Seniors

Ask any senior citizen and he or she will most likely tell you that the most meaningful legacy is to leave the world better for our children and grandchildren.  We want them to have a better standard of living, better quality of life and generally a happier life.  A close look at the behaviors of these same people, and the organizations that claim to represent them, the story is somewhat different.  They seem to want all of those things as long as it causes them no inconvenience.

One example is Social Security.  This CBS article gives a fair explanation of the future of Social Security if nothing is done.  It can pay out at the promised level of benefits until the year 2033 when benefits will drop to 77% of current levels.  (CBS numbers closely agree with government estimates.)  However, fixes are available.  On the payout side, “the long-term deficit could be eliminated without raising taxes … by increasing the retirement age, reducing the amount of monthly benefits, slowing increases in the cost of living adjustment.”  On the income side possibilities are to “raise taxes by increasing the tax rate, increasing the limit on the amount of compensation that's subject to taxes.”

Without a change our children and grandchildren would pay the same in FICA taxes but collect less for retirement.  What about the proposed solutions?  Here’s what AARP has to say about increasing the full retirement age (FRA):  "raising the FRA would be a stealth benefit cut that is unnecessary and unwanted.”  Their stance on slowing the cost of living increases is equally rigid:  they are “fighting hard” in opposition to "President Obama and Congress … trying to balance the budget by cutting the yearly cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security.”  If they oppose these cuts in benefits over the long term, it’s not hard to guess their stance on any immediate cut.

With those options eliminated, we are left with the option of taxing the kids to keep the parents whole, and this certainly doesn’t make our loved ones' lives more prosperous.  Seniors' intransigence on this issue, unwilling to compromise in the least, flies in the face of their noble sentiments.

Another issue is long-term care.  As you age, “the odds of you actually needing some form of long-term care are high,” much higher than your house being struck by lightening.  Yet this NPR posting points out that purchase or long term-care insurance does not reflect this fact.  “Out of more than 313 million Americans, only about 8 million have any such protection.”  Who then assumes the cost?  It looks like it again falls on the next generation or on Medicaid when you run out of assets, which likewise indirectly falls on the next generations as the government continues to spend more than they have (or again on Medicaid if you hire a lawyer to “protect your assets” in ways that are legal, but morally questionable).

Related to the long-term care issue is one that is probably the most egregious, that of elderly parents forcing adult children through guilt and manipulation to promise never to send them to a nursing home.  This is no doubt a reaction to feelings of fear and uncertainty, but these parents must not realize that they are implicitly expecting their children to deal with issues beyond their capabilities.  They often lack the training to take on medical issues, the physical strength to meet the needs of an invalid senior and the psychological strength to be burdened with such responsibility.

If seniors want a better life for their children and grandchildren, they must acknowledge that they own some responsibility to contribute to this hope and, by all means, not to work against it.

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