Where are Seniors in the Fight for Social Security and Pensions?

New Orleans      I’m scratching my head.  Somehow, I’ve noticed something weird around the world, and it’s not adding up, or at least not adding up the way it should.  Maybe you have noticed it as well.  There are a lot of protests here and abroad about cutbacks and threats to pensions and benefit programs, but, surprisingly to me, they are being led and populated mainly by younger people without much participation by actual beneficiaries who are older or claimants.  What’s up with that?

In Nicaragua there have been days of protests led by young people over the government’s proposal to cut social security benefits to pay for rising medical costs.  In this instance social security is meant in the global sense of benefits for the unemployed or unable to work, rather than the United States linguistic politicization that terms any benefits, earned like unemployment or given as welfare complete with all the cultural baggage that carries.

In England university workers struck for weeks over attempts to change the nature of the pension program from a defined benefit program to a defined contribution program.  Their strike was powerful, but what they have won so far is a delay for a study committee that many activists worry will not be satisfactory.

Unrest and protests have been rising in France over curtailment not only of hard won workers’ rights but also the Macron government’s actions to dismantle various welfare benefits and entitlements.

Young, largely female teacher strikers in the United States have protested and gone on strike in recent months and among their issues have been protecting deterioration of pensions.

Where are the pensioners?  The seniors?  The recipients?

Some are there for sure, but too many are leaving the fight to their children, literally and metaphorically speaking.  At some level there’s simply an air of defeat, a sort of “I did my best, so good luck to the rest.”  Or worse, an attitude of “I’ve got mine, too bad about you.”

If welfare recipients and seniors are not protesting, isn’t it too much to ask young people to lead the fight?  Honestly, ask yourself, how many young people trying to survive in gig and informal economy jobs, find homes, lovers, and friends, have time – or interest – in what they might need in bad times or twenty, thirty or forty years from now.

Politicians and governments are counting on this indifference from the young and old.  Changes are often red-circles to exempt the old or punish the young in the future while there are not yet fighters even old enough to take the field in their own interest.

Seems like solidarity, good citizenship, and love of our families, friends, co-workers and communities demands those of us who understand the benefits and stand towards the front line, need to also be among the first to put our feet in the streets to stand up for the importance of these benefits to the quality of life, if not survival, for tens of millions.

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Raising Retirement Age is the Poor Subsidizing the Rich!

New Orleans   Before complacency sets in and you pinch yourself and say, “Hey, I’m feeling ok, I can make it some more years, so if they cave in and let the Republicans raise the retirement age, maybe it’s no big deal,” you need to pinch yourself harder where you keep your wallet or pocketbook and remember that those extra years really may be a matter of little more than how much money you have.  A story recently by Michael Fletcher in the Washington Post brought the numbers all back home.

            All of the talk about how we’re living longer so we should shore up Social Security by stretching out the retirement age is based on a myopic view of class status.  Listen to this:

“’People who are shorter-lived tend to make less, which means that if you raise the retirement age, low-income populations would be subsidizing the lives of higher-income people.  Whenever I hear a policymaker say people are living longer as a justification for raising the retirement age, I immediately think they don’t understand the research or, worse, they are willfully ignoring what the data say.’”  Maya Rockeymoore, Global Policy Solutions.

The Social Security Administration in a fairly recent study Fletcher cited found that life expectancy for male workers had gone up 6 years in the top half of the income brackets but only up 1.3 years in the bottom half.   In the last 30 years as income inequity has accelerated the gap in life expectancy based on income, according to the Congressional Budget Office, has risen from 2.8 years to 4.5 years for the rich.

Eric Kingston of Syracuse University and co-chair of Social Security Works, which opposes reducing the old-age benefits, makes the great point that the income gap of life expectancy it “…would mean a benefit cut that falls heavily on people who generally are most reliant on Social Security for their retirement income.”  He added unnecessarily, “It is totally class-based.”  Amen!

In fact according to Health Affairs, Fletcher cites the fact that “in half of the nation’s counties, women younger than 75 are dying at rates higher than before.”  This is true particularly of lower income white women, and women in the rural South and West, where poorer women are getting worked too hard and hung up wet.

When the subject is Social Security, the pencil pushers working for the richer “haves” are literally killing us at the lead point of their budget discussions.  This is neither right, nor fair, to working people in America who should have the right to retire with the same dignity that they tried to live.

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