3 Political Fights to Get Involved in if You Want to Retire with Dignity Someday
I didn’t think about my body eventually betraying me, and getting old, and eventually dying, until my grandfather finally let us take him to the hospital. Everybody in the family knew that, if he was asking, something must be badly wrong with him. He hated hospitals.
My grandfather didn’t have much money in savings, but he and my grandmother did live fairly comfortably on an IBM pension and Social Security checks into his twilight years. He died somewhat before his time, but when he did go, he had relative financial stability, and so did his loving family, who rallied around him when he fell ill. His wife didn’t worry once about going back to work to help pay down his medical bills.
This experience is not necessarily typical in America any longer. Only around 15 percent of private-sector employees in the U.S. have a pension. For somebody who retires at 62, with an income of $30,000, their Social Security payment is a paltry $967 per month. And for seniors who don’t have a family support system, and who can’t afford quality elder care, the prospect of retirement is a source of dull dread instead of a cause for optimism and excitement.
We all get old. And when we do, we sometimes need a helping hand. Right now, our older generations need that helping hand from all of us — and if we don’t learn how to give it, the next generations of retirees will be even worse off.
By the year 2050, there will be more than twice as many 60-plus-year-olds as there were in 2015. In fact, 2047 is expected to be the year senior citizens outnumber “young people” on planet earth for the first time ever. Everybody agrees children are our future. But it looks like old people are our future, too.
And yet, the U.S. and many other countries seem content to ignore these radical demographic changes — because we lack any kind of cohesive vision for addressing the aging of our population and the maintenance of their basic dignities into retirement. And it’s not just an “American” or “European” problem — 80 percent of 2047’s senior citizens will hail from developing economies.
This is a human problem. And where there are human problems, there must be human solutions. Like it or not, that means getting involved in three related, and very important, political fights.
In 2017, one in five Americans over the age of 65 was actively employed. This is a trend that has risen reliably over the last few decades. Back in 2000, 4 million senior citizens worked. In 2017, that number was up to 9 million.
Here, right here, is a place where we can draw a line in the sand. Ask yourself: when I’m 65 years old, do I want to still be working? Is this the life we really want? Because this is the reality that “record numbers” of Americans are now facing.
Life has gotten expensive — and Social Security benefits don’t have the buying power they used to (one-third less, actually) for the same reason the minimum wage doesn’t have the buying power it used to. We haven’t policed these institutions — these perks of being an American citizen — to ensure they still reflect our current economic realities.
One of our current economic realities is that wages in America have been stagnant for decades. They have stagnated to the point where economists cannot presently identify any region in America where a majority of “older middle-class workers” — those who are quickly approaching retirement age — are earning enough to maintain their current standard of living after they leave the workforce.
That means many of them won’t be leaving the workforce. Hence the leap from 4 million to 9 million employed seniors in the span of fewer than 17 years.
Medicare and Medicaid
Moreover, the expense and unsound footing of the elder care and health care “industries” are important aspects to examine. Elders are being abused by a health care model that’s too risk-averse for its own (and its patients’) well-being.
As far as health insurance goes, there’s the matter of insurance companies sometimes refusing to work with care agencies in the patients’ or clients’ area. There are so many advancements happening all the time in the health care industry — specifically in elder rehabilitation. And yet, all of our effort and technological progress is hamstrung by an electorate, and a cabal of politicians, too cowardly to direct their anger at the real enemy: private insurance companies.
The final piece of this retirement Gordian Knot is that the elder care industry is poised for a potentially disastrous shortage of personnel in the coming years if they don’t manage to make these positions more attractive to people looking for work. Interestingly, elder care workers have never been included in the Fair Labor Standards Act and still aren’t. During the Obama administration, attempts were made to correct this, but a federal judge said “no.”
In other words, elder care workers aren’t eligible for overtime pay and don’t even “qualify,” legally, for the minimum wage. This is a ridiculous blunder at a time when Baby Boomers are retiring in numbers that threaten to overwhelm all of the institutions tasked with keeping them safe, secure and in good health.
It’s clear the relevant industries can’t police themselves and would prefer to hoard revenue in boardrooms instead of fairly compensating the people who are actually doing all of this hard work. The care of our elders is loving and grueling work — but it doesn’t happen just in hospitals and assisted living facilities.
If retiring with dignity is a priority for you — you, reading this — then you need to find and grant your support to politicians who believe in strengthening Social Security and expanding Medicare and Medicaid, and who support strong workers’ rights — for elder care workers and for everybody else who helps keep this country and its economy turning.