The Froma Harrop article The old folks are doing fine, has a lot in it to make someone confused about elders’ current situations in retirement. Before I go into the specific problems I had with the article’s content, I wanted to go over some basic facts about the significance of Social Security as income to older Americans, since the author seems to feel that Social Security does not matter and is not important enough to fix. I found a Social Security brief from the National Academy of Social Insurance titled Social Security and Retirement Income Adequacy which helped articulate these facts. About 9 in 10 older Americans receive Social Security and of the total dollars received in retirement, on average 4 out of 10 dollars are from Social Security. The paper broke up elders into 5 income groups. The two lowest income groups (elders with incomes below $16,350) received more then 80% of their total income from Social Security. The middle group ($16,360-$25,590) received nearly 60% of their total income, and the next highest group (up to $44,130) received nearly 50%. This proves that Social Security is by far the largest single source of retirement income for elders regardless of income levels. Older American need Social Security and in the Harrop article and a lot of the political and philosophical debates on reform, they seem to be missing this point. The consequences of any choice or solution, whether it be to reform the system or wait until it runs dry, will impact millions of retirees.

To the first point made in the article about how “40 years of solvency sounds pretty darn good these days,” I ask, compared to what, Medicare? Yes, perhaps Social Security is in a better place than Medicare (which is a discussion for another time) but this does not mean we should just forget about fixing it. As mentioned numerous times by professionals and scholars, we need to start thinking about and initiating solutions for maintaining Social Security sooner rather than later. The changes will not have to be as severe, nor the cuts as deep, if we handle it now when there is more time to deal with adjustments. Also, if we don’t “fix” Social Security and it is 2049 then what? All those individuals who paid into the system suddenly get a huge benefit cut and only receive what is coming in from the current workforce (Expected to be about 70% of what they are suppose to recieve). Or, the converse, we raise taxes significantly to cover the benefits promised. Both solutions are utterly ridiculous because acting NOW can prevent these options from being reality and acting NOW cushions any negative changes resulting from reform.

I found that the tone of the article patronized older adults. Sentences like “burdened with debt because they foolishly treated their homes like ATM machines,” and “while the gray heads chowed down on the fish and chips,” were really unnerving. This author seems to have sampled a few high income snow birds (individuals who travel to a warmer location during winter months) currently living in Florida comfortably, rather than talking with the average older American. There is a big difference between the elders who are married, recent retirees, and under 75 versus those widowed 85 year olds living in cities. One can hope her views on Social Security would change if the author talked with these elders during this financial crisis. Or simply talk to the elders who cannot afford a winter home, cannot afford to go out for fish and chips, and do not own homes that they can “treat like ATMs.” They are completely forgotten in this paper.

I want to conclude with the fact that medical care is on the rise and Medicare has cut a lot of its benefits. Unlike those working-age individuals who on average do not have significant health issues, seniors get more health problems as they age…not very surprising. These health issue cost money, often lots of money, and often without long term care insurance individuals are spending everything they have and getting financial help from family to handle visiting nurse care, assisted living situations, or nursing homes. So, the article seems to belittle the Social Security system and implies we do not have to worry about it, “the old folks are doing fine.” But instead of sampling a few Floridians, if someone actually took a good look at America’s elder population you would see they are not all fine and that we cannot simply let Social Security go.

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