Social Security 101

An essay I wrote in 2007

Social Security 101- or Thinning the Herd

Baseball legend, Mickey Mantle once said, “If I knew I were going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself. Mickey played hard and died hard at age 63 from complications due to alcoholism. He made it to the Hall of Fame, but never made it to full retirement age.

Who wants to get old…? Grey hair, wrinkles, more wrinkles, sagging faces, sagging asses, colonoscopies, feces in test tubes, and orifices being swabbed, scoped or probed, ha, ha!

Break out the champagne! That glossy brochure of a retirement community shows palm trees reflected on the pool, and a happy couple with perfectly coiffed grey heads, and photo-shopped smiles. In between photo takes, that grey-haired pair may have fuddled with the cell-phone- if they can remember where they left it-and bickered, “How, does this damn thing work?” while making their next doctor’s appointment. Happy, happy are they that Charles Schwab or Harold Schlep did their financial planning.

Perhaps this handsome couple retired in Tucson, in the sunny desert land of the Saguaro cactus. Golf, golf and more golf are a senior citizen’s seventh heaven. Early bird discounts and Happy Hour Margaritas are the rage.

As the temperature in the summer is just about to reach record highs in the Southwest desert of the United States of America, the true picture for the aging population may not be as sunny as this brochure.

The Social Security safety net is unraveling, and without changes to our fiscal policy, our population as a whole and the U.S. economy is heading for disaster; however, what are the solutions to reverse this trend? 76 Million Baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 will soon become senior citizens.

Old age, once referred to as the ‘golden years’ was envisioned to be a time of well-earned relaxation, enjoyment and reflection on life well spent. Sadly, it also can also bring an increase of acute or chronic debilitating disease and illnesses that can wipe out a lifetime of savings.

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The fertility rate in the country has been declining over the last century. Therefore, as the working population declines so do tax revenues and payroll taxes. In 2006 the number of people that were 65 was 35 million, by 2030 that number will be 71 million. This does not bode well for the coming tidal wave of senior citizens.

The Boring Details:

The Social Security Act of 1935 created retirement benefit programs. Medicare was enacted in 1965 to augment and ensure that the elderly and empoverished would have health care. With Social Security benefits and employee pension’s plans, retirement was the potential pot of gold at the end of the rainbow; the reward for a lifetime of hard work. People also acquired wealth through their lifetimes from increases in property value and investments, resulting in financial independence in old age, i.e., “asset inflation”. Which also happens to be the main source of income and wealth driving our current economy (2017).

It is now evident that the revenues collected under the current Social Security provisions alone, will be substanstially insufficient to pay the full retirement benefits as Baby Boomers age and/or to support a middle class life style at best. Social Security was never designed to fully fund retirement, but was modeled after defined benefit plans. Wherein, both the employee and employer pay in payroll taxes over time, and at retirement the employee is paid benefits based on the amount of contribution. In the interim, the money goes into a trust fund presumably as protection from poverty and/or dependence upon charity during retirement years. The Social Security Act was later expanded to include dependents, the disabled, and others. According to The Truth about Social, these trust funds are monitored as follows:

Each year the trustees of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds are required by law to issue a report that projects the financial status of the programs over a future period of 75 years. (The six trustees are the U.S. Secretaries of Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services: the Commissioner of Social Security: and also “Public Members” appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

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Recently, these projections have estimated that when all Baby Boomers are eligible for Social Security, the current program will not be able to pay the full amount of benefits. In their 2006 report, the trustees projected that in 2040 and thereafter, Social Security will only be able to pay approximately 74 percent of the scheduled annual benefits. The Medicare program is in more severe trouble. As healthcare costs continue to rise, the money to support it is predicted to be insufficient by 2018 (thus the RUSH to REPEAL AND REPLACE THE ACA, BECAUCE THEY SPENT THE MONEY). (2017)

The Bottom Line:

It has been broadly reported in the media that U.S. employers are cutting back on health insurance plans, as well as pension and benefit plans. Companies, such as Enron and United Airlines have defaulted on their pension plans altogether. In the late 1970’s, more journalists began writing negatively about seniors, simply because they were costing the country too much money. This is a reversal in the attitude toward the senior citizen population. Grandma and Grandpa were being personified as the “Greedy Geezers”. In the 1980’s a cover of Time Magazine, portrayed “Grays on the Go” as “…staging history’s biggest retirement party. Older people HAVE become scapegoats for America’s ills.

Bioethicist, Daniel Callahan suggested “denying health care to individuals over 80”. Is the solution to simply let them die? Is that some kind of neo-Nazism? A way to dispose of the older, the sick, and the poor? Or is this just going to occur by letting the system fail? (2017)

That would be wasting some very productive and valuable talent. Academy Award winning director, Sydney Lumet, at 83, has made over 40 films. His 2005 production, Before the Devil Knows you’re Dead, is now in theaters (circa 2006). Perhaps Mr. Callahan should see it? He might want also want to read Malcolm Cowley’s essay, “The View from Eighty,” where the author vividly portrays the spirit and humanity that lives on despite aging. Senior citizens were once valued and considered part of society’s responsibility.

However, in the new millennium it appears the fiduciary trust of Social Security and the safety net for seniors has been betrayed. Life has become a commodity calculated by actuarial tabled evaluation and GREED. The Republicans are making the Sophie’s Choice for a generation of evil personification of the Military-Industrial-Complex and iron clad grip of cooperate greed and dissolution and evil iron grip that is clutching the throat of the human spirit..

Cheryl Hollander

2017- Ten years later