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Old And In The Way: The Politics, Policies and Poverty Of Aging

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A perfect storm is brewing in the United States made up of several converging factors; an aging Baby Boomer population, a crashing economy, the draining of Social Security to pay the government's bills combined with the rise of ageism in the workplace. All of these factors are coming together to create a new demographic of poverty among those that are too old to work and too young to retire.

More and more blogs, news sites, newspapers and magazines are publishing stories about older Americans losing their jobs in the worst economy since the Great Depression. These stories are about people in their fifties and sixties that have had their 401Ks and retirement funds wiped out and have frequently worked for the same companies and corporations for the bulk of their working lives. They are laid off and, despite years of experience, proven track records and skill sets that are far beyond anything most younger people have, cannot find a job. Many of these people are also supporting either young adult children who cannot find jobs themselves or their even more elderly parents.

Some of the publications write only about bits and parts of it.

Recently, the Wall Street Journal published an article about older people simply not being able to retire. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903639404576520772216559438.html This story ignores the fact that if an older person loses their job, chances are very good they may not be able to get another and will never work again for the rest of their life. It seems to assume that no matter how old someone is, as long as they can work they can find a job.

The AP ran an article about the fact that Social Security Disability (which is separate from regular Social Security Retirement) is on the verge of insolvency.
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/44220205/ns/politics-more_politics/
According to the article, a great deal of the pressure on the system is coming from aging Baby Boomers, with disabilities related to aging, who are applying for disability benefits as a last resort when they can't find a job. Applications are up over 50% from a decade ago due to this phenomenon. This is despite the fact that disability payments are roughly only half of what full retirement would be if the worker were allowed to work and continue to contribute to the system. The Director of Social Security, himself, calls this the result of "economic desperation". This problem is becoming so bad that Congress recently allocated $4 Billion to Social Security to invest in programs to comb it's rolls and drop people being overpaid and who no longer qualify.

Compounding this problem are the calls by the GOP to raise the retirement age to 70. This isn't based on any evidence that people are working longer and don't actually need it, but on the fact that people are living longer and draining from the fund longer than in years past. In fact, the real belief is that many who have to retire before 70 will do so for health reasons on truncated benefits and die before they ever reach 70, thus saving the system money. Those few that actually can and do work until 70 will continue to pay into the system, so it's a win/win move. Added to that is the fact that earners in the top half of the economic strata have a longer life expectancy than those in the bottom half and have a far greater chance of making it to 70 and drawing full benefits.
http://motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2010/07/raising-retirement-age

Saddest of all are the personal stories showing up daily on the internet of older people falling between the cracks; able to work, need to work and cannot find jobs due to the rising ageism of employers. Employers are reluctant to hire older workers who may not be with their company more than a few years and are seen as costing more, due to years of experience, than younger prospective employees who are willing and eager to work for less money over a longer period of time. Simply put, in a society that translates everything into business terms, older workers are seen as a "bad investment". This ageism is insidious and, despite the fact that it's illegal, virtually impossible to prove. These people are draining savings and retirement accounts, if they have anything left after the market roller coaster of the last few years, simply to survive. And their money is running out.

In an article around a year ago in the Washington Independent (http://washingtonindependent.com/87333/too-young-not-to-work-but-too-old-to-work) it was stated that the unemployment rate for those over 55 is the highest it's been since 1948. The government is aware of the subtle ageism in this rate and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has held hearings about it. Laurie McCann, a senior attorney at the AARP Foundation Litigation and expert on age discrimination, stated, "...the phenomenon is so prevalent that discrimination simply seems like reality. As a society, we’re willing to tolerate age discrimination, more so than other kinds of discrimination. People sense that, and it gives older job-seekers a sense of futility. Why even bother applying for jobs, or bringing a discrimination case? I won’t win.”

To date, the U.S. Government has been very lax in addressing this problem and there doesn't seem to be much hope that it will be in the near future as the economy continues to deteriorate both at the public and governmental levels. The most that can be done is that those who work with the poverty stricken prepare for a social storm that has every possibility of reaching hurricane proportions; an unprecedented upsurge in poor elderly that has the chance of being monumental in scope.

In the end, the ones that may be sacrificed on the altar of economics will be society's oldest and frailest. This is the true "death panel" and the older worker faces it with every job interview.

(This is the final draft of an article I wrote to be published in a professional political blog as a guest post. You get to read it here first.)

Comments

tange 2 years, 7 months ago

Ok, I know what it is. I just watched those two tracks and then did a quick page search for "Boom;" here's the first commentary hit... "I find it difficult to feel sorry for the Baby Boomers. This mess is a creation of their own."

I don't know how the conversation unfolded—unmotivated to uncollapse all the capsules—but generational distancing is evident at the outset. So much divisiveness separating too many fragmented realities, first-order symptoms of social decline.

(I wish I could reference the source, but so much is lost with time.) I recall an anecdote surrounding a culture in upheaval, undergoing sharp decline. An old woman had fallen from a great height and lay broken below, her unanswered cries met with laughter and jeers from youths passing by.

When we are unwilling or unable see ourselves in others and others in ourselves, trans-generationally, the we invite degeneracy.

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Gandalf 2 years, 7 months ago

Sorry I didn't see this earlier cait! I just checked my emails!

Some the posters on this thread will one day learn that the worst part of being middle aged is growing out of it!

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tange 2 years, 7 months ago

"... Baby Boomers and then also the Generation Xers...."

What hath cait wrought?!

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Agnostick 2 years, 7 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

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lubrication 2 years, 7 months ago

BornAgain, seems the fudgepacking athiest liberal fukwads of Lawrence are stalking you. Better lay low.

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ksrush 2 years, 7 months ago

Cait, interesting piece but I am wondering where's all the real world experience in this piece? I noted lots of sources but no info from the trenches. I have had quite the opposite experience. I fall into the catagory of which you are talking about. Recently I was hired into the highest paying job in my career to date and in charge of an entire division of a company. The subject of age did come up in my interview, I told my prospective employer I'm no spring chicken, I was somewhat taken back by the response. " We don't like to hire younger people because they do not posess the work ethic people of your age do - welcome aboard. "

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Katara 2 years, 7 months ago

And if anyone wants a "sneak peek" into BornAgainAmerican's inbox, check this link out. Absolute comedy gold!

http://myrightwingdad.blogspot.com/

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George Lippencott 2 years, 7 months ago

I think this is a good blog. I read it to be about aging boomers finding employment difficult in this economic environment. They are caught in a gap between a heretofore productive life and the time when they reach the safety net for seniors. I saw no solution offered nor any generation “dising” in it and I am puzzled at from where that issue came.

I researched the impact of economics on life expectancy. It is about three years and the centroid is about 70. The real issue is gender. Women live longer – longer than the wealthy do in relation to the “poor”. Might want to think about that segment. In my opinion it adds little.

Do you have a solution for the boomers? They do have the normal social safety net avalable until they reach retirement age. Is it inadequate? Why do you perceive there will be a future storm of not quite seniors in this gap. Do you not expect the economy to come back?

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BornAgainAmerican 2 years, 7 months ago

Obama has been shown to be an incompetent leader with leftist beliefs. There is no putting that genie back in the bottle – no matter how much help the media gives to him. He is a failure and so are his leftist policies and keynesian spending. 76% of Americans believe this administration is on the wrong track. Only 14% believe this administration is on the right track economically. You have your work cut out for you Verity if you continue to support Obama. Prediction: Republicans willl win in a cake walk come November. The Community Organizer has no clothes…. .

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verity 2 years, 7 months ago

"The best people I know are those who are mostly apolitical."

Camper, mostly I agree with you, but I'm puzzled by that statement. I would love to be apolitical, to spend my dotage sitting in my garden drinking coffee and enjoying the fruits of my labors. However, it was apathy (apolitical?) by too many people that got us into the situation we are now in---and I don't know of anybody who thinks it is a good situation, whatever their political leanings. I feel like it is a moral imperative to be political and to do what I can in my own small way to get things back on track.

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camper 2 years, 7 months ago

This is a really good blog. Much to ponder. If anything, I don't think things have changed much at all and people have not changed much either. Generations are seemingly caught in a wave much larger than the individuals. And each wave has individuals far different than what the group is later labeled as.

As always and unfortunately, the young and old often are dismissive of one another. Baby boomers were once labeled as the hippie generation, but now may be mislabeled as the tea-party generation, the far right. Younger people are mislabeled as liberal.

The best people I know are those who are mostly apolitical. Young people who like old people. And old people who like young people. White people who like black people. And black people who like white people.

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BornAgainAmerican 2 years, 7 months ago

It was the young people and misguided of this nation who elected Obama and the Democratic Congress. You fell for the "Hope and Change" which in reality was nothing but "Hype and Lies." You have tasted socialism and seen evil face to face, and have found you don't like it after all. You make a lot of noise, but most are all too interested in their careers or "Climbing the Social Ladder" to be involved in such mundane things as patriotism and voting. Many of those who fell for the "Great Lie" in 2008 are now having buyer's remorse. With all the education we gave you, you didn't have sense enough to see through the lies and instead drank the 'Kool-Aid.' Now you're paying the price and complaining about it. No jobs, lost mortgages, higher taxes, and less freedom. This is what you voted for and this is what you got. We entrusted you with the Torch of Liberty and you traded it for a paycheck and a fancy house.

Well, don't worry folks, the Grey Haired Brigade is here, and in 2012 we are going to take back our nation. We may drive a little slower than you would like but we get where we're going, and in 2012 we're going to the polls by the millions. This land does not belong to the man in the White House nor to the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. It belongs to "We the People" and "We the People" plan to reclaim our land and our freedom. We hope this time you will do a better job of preserving it and passing it along to our grandchildren. So the next time you have the chance to say the Pledge of Allegiance, Stand up, put your hand over your heart, honor our country, and thank God for the old geezers of the "Grey-Haired Brigade."

~Author, Anon. Grey-Haired Brigade Member

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BornAgainAmerican 2 years, 7 months ago

They like to refer to us as senior citizens, old fogies, geezers, and in some cases dinosaurs. Some of us are "Baby Boomers" getting ready to retire. Others have been retired for some time. We walk a little slower these days and our eyes and hearing are not what they once were. We have worked hard, raised our children, worshipped our God and grown old together. Yes, we are the ones some refer to as being over the hill, and that is probably true. But before writing us off completely, there are a few things that need to be taken into consideration. In school we studied English, history, math, and science which enabled us to lead America into the technological age. Most of us remember what outhouses were, many of us with firsthand experience. We remember the days of telephone party-lines, 25 cent gasoline, and milk and ice being delivered to our homes. For those of you who don't know what an icebox is, today they are electric and referred to as refrigerators. A few even remember when cars were started with a crank. Yes, we lived those days.

We are probably considered old fashioned and out-dated by many. But there are a few things you need to remember before completely writing us off. We won World War II, fought inKorea and Viet Nam . We can quote The Pledge of Allegiance, and know where to place our hand while doing so. We wore the uniform of our country with pride and lost many friends on the battlefield. We didn't fight for the Socialist States of America , we fought for the "Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave." We wore different uniforms but carried the same flag. We know the words to the Star Spangled Banner , America , and America the Beautiful by heart, and you may even see some tears running down our cheeks as we sing. We have lived what many of you have only read about in history books and we feel no obligation to apologize to anyone for America .. Yes, we are old and slow these days but rest assured, we have at least one good fight left in us. We have loved this country, fought for it, and died for it, and now we are going to save it. It is our country and nobody is going to take it away from us. We took oaths to defend America against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and that is an oath we plan to keep. There are those who want to destroy this land we love but, like our founders, there is no way we are going to remain silent.

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Cait McKnelly 2 years, 7 months ago

Bernie Sanders (one of the few unaffiliated independents) is introducing a bill in Congress to lift the tax cap on payroll deductions for FICA, ensuring the health of SS for at least 75 years. http://sanders.senate.gov/newsroom/news/?id=da460dc1-a6be-4ff9-8f92-4759c78f92be This is going to make the GOP squeal like a pig stuck under a gate, I'm sure. We'll see, I guess.

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Katara 2 years, 7 months ago

This was an interesting article that came out today about grandparents playing a much bigger role in the raising of their grandchildren than they have in the past.

http://tinyurl.com/3cvdpxf

What is even more interesting is that it seems to refute some of cait48's claims about older workers and the beliefs of how well the finances are of the older generation. From the below quote it appears that older workers enjoy more job security.

As to why that is, I am not sure. It could be the industries that they are in favor more experienced workers. It could be that employers realize the value of having an experienced knowledge base in their work force.

"Francese says the stereotype of grandparents who are frail, receding and dependent is changing. He noted that unemployment among workers ages 25 to 34 last year was double that of Americans aged 55 to 64. U.S. households headed by baby boomers also commanded almost half of the nation's total household income, and are more likely to be college graduates than grandparents in previous generations."

It also is interesting in how people believe that the recession has brought families closer.

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kernal 2 years, 7 months ago

Katara, the best advice I can give you is to do everything you possibly can to make sure your generation and the generations following yours, understand the how the government works and what the political process is. I've met too many people younger than the Baby Boomers,who also don't understand how the economy works or basic scientic principles. They don't want to take the time to learn what the issues are, look at the possible solutions or act on them. They don't want to study history because it's boring, even though history teaches us not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Too many have told me it's no big deal because someone else will do it. What they need to understand is they need to BE that someone else. I'm talking about people with higher education, which I find sad. I hope you have the stamina, because it's going to be an uphill road all the way.

By the way, I did not mean to convey "it's not my fault", just that you can't always be prepared for every land mine on your life's journey no matter how proactive you are. Good luck to you!

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verity 2 years, 7 months ago

None of us may be individually responsible for the mess we're in, but we are all suffering because of it. We need to fight together to get out of it.

Write letters, sign petitions, let our politicians know how we feel. May not change their minds, but at least they know there are people who don't support their slime.

Let other people know how you feel so nobody feels that they are in this alone.

Get out the vote! The only way we will ever get the political mess cleaned up is from the outside because most politicians seem to be looking out only for themselves, not their constituents.

Stop voting for those who spent the most money and whose name you recognize. Educate yourself. If you have time to spend on here commenting, you have time to do voting research.

Counter the lies that are repeated until they become accepted truth with the facts.

Please add your own ideas.

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Centerville 2 years, 7 months ago

The real tragedy is that so many BBs think that Social Security was invented to fully fund their retirement. It wasn't. That's why it was originally called 'Supplemental', which even FDR made perfectly clear. Somehow, the reality has been completely obscured and that's why you'll hear (all too often): 'I only get $XXX a month Social Security. How does the government expect me to live on that ?." Answer: it doesn't.

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kernal 2 years, 7 months ago

Katara, it certainly is my fault that I worked in an industry that crashed in the 1980's and with it went the pension fund I contributed to each paycheck for thirteen years; it is certainly my fault that I got horribly sick and almost died because of a genetic disease I was unaware of that continues to this day; it is certainly my fault that health insurance costs me $10,000 a year; and, it is certainly my fault that the government took bucket loads out of the Social Security fund, which I contributed to for over forty years, for things other than what it was set up for. Watch out, or your children's generation will blame you for things out of your control as well.

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Steve Jacob 2 years, 7 months ago

Funny, on CNBC today the discussion was how the government is going broke because boomers did not save enough.

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Liberty_One 2 years, 7 months ago

The solution is more capitalism. Nothing has generated wealth and jobs like capitalism. People want safety, safety, safety and they get diminishing returns when relying on government because governments do not create wealth, they can only transfer it from someone else. Eventually you run out of other people's money.

Free up the economy and you'll see unemployment fall and opportunities open up for older people who need more income.

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verity 2 years, 7 months ago

I'm on the far side of 60 and, although Katara makes some broad statements, she has some very good points. My generation started out rebelling and thinking we would change the world. Then we sold out or at least rented ourselves out and became the establishment that we had been fighting. We thought we were making a new and better world, but somewhere we failed and things are now worse (in my opinion) than they were when we started out as young people. While, as a person, we may not feel that we did anything wrong and are not individually responsible, our generation did screw up.

We best not be dissing the young people because they are everybody's future. I don't think they are any different than we were, but I hope they are smarter or we are in deep doggy ---. Please, Katara, keep up the fight.

The problems Cait addresses are certainly real, but we cannot solve them without changing the political process to being controlled by all the people, not only those who have enough money to buy the process.

One suggestion for retired people is to get involved in activism now that you have more time. If we don't change the political process or we are going to keep sliding straight to that dark place (don't know if I can use that word here).

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Ron Holzwarth 2 years, 7 months ago

Cait48, a very good article, but I wonder if there is one thing left out about the ageism statements.

Could it be that employers are reluctant to hire older workers because of higher health care premiums for older workers?

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Katara 2 years, 7 months ago

And Baby Boomers may end up losing valuable support from younger generations due to tactics to suppress younger voters.

"Turning to the issue of voter fraud prevention, O'Brien said his party will "tighten up the definition of a New Hampshire resident." He said that Plymouth, a college town, experiences 900 same-day voter registrations. "They are kids voting liberal, voting their feelings, with no life experience," he said." http://www.fosters.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2011701139913

"In Wisconsin, where public attention now is focused on Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) efforts to undermine the rights of workers to engage in collective bargaining, there is another piece of proposed legislation that could have a substantial negative impact on the state’s young and minority voters. Conservative representatives in the state have proposed a law, backed by Walker, that would ban students from using in-state university- or college-issued IDs for proof-of-residency when voting. If this legislation became law, it would become one of the strictest voter registration laws in the country and would provide significant logistical and financial barriers for a variety of groups, including student and minority voters.**" http://campusprogress.org/articles/conservative_corporate_advocacy_group_alec_behind_voter_disenfranchise/

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Katara 2 years, 7 months ago

I find it difficult to feel sorry for the Baby Boomers. This mess is a creation of their own.

The Baby Boomers sold the younger generations down the river so as to maintain their own lifestyles. The Baby Boomers are not the ones to clean up the messes they created. The rest of us get to and unfortunately, there are not enough of us to do so. It is unlikely that we will get to see anything out of Social Security even though we have paid into it all this time. We'll get to enjoy higher taxes to cover the cost of more social services needed by the elderly.

The burden of taking care of the Baby Boomers now falls on the shoulders of the next generations. I am willing to bet they will wish they invested more into them so not only do the future generations have the tools to do so but also the willingness as well.

There are tons of opportunities that one has as an older person. You have many skills that you can pass on but I see so few opting to do that. Many do not want to help out the younger generations in any shape or form. Why the resistance? Don't you want them to succeed?

I don't have a problem taking care of my elders. It is the right thing to do. But our elders sure aren't making it easy to do.

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Cait McKnelly 2 years, 7 months ago

Thanks for the feedback, folks. I'm still continuing to do final polishing and you may see some slight changes here and there; correcting tenses, voices, etc. All of that nasty "grammar" stuff. I have some bad writing habits (I especially seem to get free with unnecessary quotation marks a lot for emphasis) and have to get stern with myself when I edit. So you might see some changes but the content won't change.

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ForThePeople 2 years, 7 months ago

Very well written article. Thanks for sharing locally first.

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beatrice 2 years, 7 months ago

Cait, great job explaining a very real problem facing America today. The only thing I would add is that not only are older Americans looked upon as a bad investment, our youth-obsessed society is against the elderly like never before. Plastic surgery runs amok, botox is sold like candy, and wrinkles or grey hair is frowned upon. Further, we have become a throw-away society. We buy cheap stuff at Wal-Mart and the Dollar Store that gets tossed out and replaced with more cheap stuff. Is it at all a surprise that we treat people this way?

Sadly, it won't get better. Logan's Run anyone?

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Carol Bowen 2 years, 7 months ago

I'd share this with our representatives, but I am pretty sure they do not read and/or comprehend their mail. And, sadly, younger folks are invincible. They do not need to listen.

How do we get people to understand?

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Agnostick 2 years, 7 months ago

Wow. Very, very good writing. Just responded to your PM, too.

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jafs 2 years, 7 months ago

Very sad.

And, perhaps, an almost inevitable result of the pursuit of profit above all else in our society.

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