Bernie’s Plan to Address the Retirement Crisis: It’s Good That It Exists. But It’s Not Nearly Enough to Solve the Problem

Image result for elderly homeless Two weeks ago Bernie Sanders announced his “right to a secure retirement” plan. The media didn’t notice, the voters didn’t care, no one’s talking about it. But the problem is huge and about to get huger. And the government isn’t doing jack. As I wrote a year ago in a column that no one gave a crap about: “Born in 1961, the oldest Xers are graying, aching, 57. And in trouble. A New School study projects that 40% of workers ages 50-60 and their spouses who are not poor or near poor will fall into poverty or near poverty after they retire…The rapidity and scale of downward mobility among the elderly will shock American society, precipitating political upheavals as dramatic as those we saw during the 1930s.” Make that 58.

For the first time, the elderly now account for one out of five suicides. Experts expect that number to rise.

Like Sanders, Elizabeth Warren wants to shore up the finances of the Social Security system by imposing Social Security taxes on all income brackets, not just the lower ones, and replacing the current cost of living calculus with a metric that more realistically captures seniors’ spending habits. But only Sanders has proposed a plan to address the millions of Americans growing into old age with inadequate savings and pensions as healthcare costs soar.

So let’s take a look at Bernie’s plan.

“Beyond implementing Medicare for All and expanding it to include dental, hearing and vision coverage, Sanders’s health care plan will offer seniors supports and services at home ‘without waitlists, asset and income restrictions, and other barriers,’” reported The Hill. Heavier reliance on at-home care is one of the way more advanced countries like France care for older people. Well into her descent into Alzheimer’s my French grandmother continued to live at home; an attendant did her cooking, cleaning and laundry. She only moved to the hospital at the very end. (She tried get out of bed to go to the bathroom, fell, hit her head and died.)

Caring as I am now for my mom, who also has Alzheimer’s, I have to say that dental, hearing and vision costs—though significant—pale next to the $60,000-a-year-plus expense of nursing home care. Sanders’ plan would not address this pressing need.

Sanders wants to improve wages and working conditions for America’s beleaguered homecare workers. This is desperately needed—for the workers. For the aged and their caregivers, however, this means increased costs. Though happier homecare assistants will presumably do a better job, it’s odd that Sanders includes this idea as part of a retirement security agenda.

Sanders would expand “the 1965 Older Americans Act that would seek to create a new office within the Administration for Community Living to study social isolation among seniors and its impact and provide grants to states and municipalities to address the issue.” Sounds like another opportunity for state governments to fritter away poorly supervised federal funds on higher bureaucratic salaries and to plug holes in their budget when what is really needed is a direct transfer of cash into the bank accounts of older Americans and their families.

Sanders’ plan is full of Band-Aids like that. He would “expand the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program to guarantee heating and cooling assistance, bolster the Commodity Supplemental Food Program to combat hunger among seniors and cap credit card interest rates at 15 percent and curtail the practices of loan sharks to protect seniors from ‘scams and predatory financial practices and instruments.'”

Make no mistake: when you can’t pay your heating oil bill and it’s February in Minnesota, you’re happy for any help you can get. Meals on Wheels is awesome. Credit card rates are too damn high. The creatures who record your “yes” when a robocaller calls you so they can run up unauthorized charges on your cards should be drawn and quartered.

But this is such lame legislation and in such small portions. Anyone who still believes Sanders is unrealistically ambitious need only look at this stuff.

If politics is the art of the possible, Americans should realize that what’s possible is much, much more than they’ve ever been told by either party or the press.

Under President Hugo Chávez gas cost 7 cents a gallon in Venezuela. Chávez’s logic was unimpeachable: Venezuela was the hemisphere’s largest producer of fossil fuel. Why shouldn’t Venezuelans benefit from their own country’s natural resources?

The United States has quietly become the largest energy producer on earth. Not just the elderly—everyone in the U.S.—should be paying next to nothing for fuel. (Spare me the emails about the environment. We need to ditch fossil fuels yesterday but, until we do, this is about economic justice.)

No one—again, not just senior citizens—should go hungry in this, the richest nation on the planet. It’s simply a matter of reallocating resources from the super wealthy and lawbreaking corporations to individual people who need them more.

The average bank savings account pays 0.1%. Bernie’s 15% cap on credit card rates doesn’t go nearly far enough. How about 1%? Banks would still make a profit.

My takeaway: Bernie Sanders deserves credit for trying to turn the looming retirement crisis into a 2020 campaign issue. It’s long overdue. His plan is detailed, plausible and stands               head and shoulders above his rivals merely for existing.

But it’s weak tea. Even if it were enacted in its entirety it would still leave millions of Americans in coming years homeless and living in abject poverty. It doesn’t address the primary problem: paying for nursing home care that currently runs over $7,700 per month.

I wish progressives like Sanders would take a cue from President Trump in political negotiations: ask for the stars and you might wind up with the moon. Compromise with yourself in anticipation of your rivals’ complaints, ask for the upper atmosphere and you’ll likely get nothing much at all.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

14 thoughts on “Bernie’s Plan to Address the Retirement Crisis: It’s Good That It Exists. But It’s Not Nearly Enough to Solve the Problem

  1. I don’t see major changes coming soon, unless a massive depression hits….

    The sixties was a more radical time, it opened the eyes of many American to problems that had been swept under the rug by the media but all the pressure on Washington only did so much and the hard won gains gave extra fuel to the growing right wing reactionary movement, that want to drags back the country back to the 90’s the 1890’s. Free markets with little regulation and the state militia ready to crush rebellious workers or any protester that steps too far out the sanctioned parade and go home laws/regulations. The reactionaries just breaking all the good regulation/laws that generations fought for, almost everyday something gets tossed under the bus in the name of freedom ( the freedom to make more profit regardless of the environmental or societal cost).

    One person, even if they are president can only do so much. If the powers behind the curtain want a president gone the employee ex-spooks that will dig up or fabrcate somthing. Then Mr or Ms Preseint will have three choices, go pro corporate (with a few token gains for average people) and the “evidence” will suppressed, resign or face impeachment in congress where most of members are in the pockets their backers.

    The Depression of the 30’s, now there was time when the wealthy feared a mass uprising of the desperate poor so FDR was allowed to proceed with his new deal but even then items on FRD’s wish list like job guaranties had to dropped to pass legislation.

    A new pro union, workers political party ready to fight for EVERYONE outside of upper management that isn’t afraid to lose corporate backers and can keep going despite the loss of leaders is one road to change

    Another road to change is millions of desperate poor on the street ready to take on the system because they have nothing to lose. Recently some of the wealthy built safe houses overseas in places like New Zealand.

    https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2018-rich-new-zealand-doomsday-preppers/

  2. The United States has quietly become the largest energy producer on earth. Not just the elderly—everyone in the U.S.—should be paying next to nothing for fuel. (Spare me the emails about the environment. We need to ditch fossil fuels yesterday but, until we do, this is about economic justice.)

    At the risk of sending that email 😉

    The problem with this is that the very reason the US managed to increase its energy production is that companies were allowed to employ insane technologies like “fracking” that they cannot get away with in many other places. These extractive practices are extremely polluting even locally. The damage to the fresh water supply alone clearly destroys a lot more value than those few years of exuberance are worth.

    If the US public (outside of Alaska) had enough influence to secure a share in the energy boom,they wouldn’t allow it to occur in the first place. It is the equivalent of eating your seed corn. Or, as Ted correctly points out, letting someone else eat your seed corn without compensation and calling it an economic recovery.

    • Free Market Ideology: Take care of the dollars and everything else will take care of itself.

      The value of natural resources will not be recognized until they are near depletion.

      No future value under scarcity is calculated into present price.

      Technological Fundamentalism: The belief that future science will discover solutions to the problems created by past science.

      That with enough dollars the technological means of reversing entropy will soon be discovered.

      • I hereby volunteer to take care of the dollars. Purely out of a sense of patriotic duty and altruism.

        😉

  3. All true Ted. I’d like to add that many of the Boomers are in the same boat. Yes, the boat is sinking, so the X’s have it worse, and the Millennials will have it even worse than they. Will they ever retire at all? The idea of ‘retirement’ is actually a new invention, made possible by increasing productivity, technology, and medicine – and yet here we are only two or three generations in & we’re finding it out of reach of the majority.

    Many of my generation are struggling, even though we were born in the heyday of American productivity. Then some other stuff happened.

    Each generation builds and contributes to society (e.g. the roads and sewers were already built when I was born; the internet was already here when the Millennials were born.) the next generation benefits from those that came before, we should all be grateful enough to our forebears to let ’em live out their lives comfortably.

    But we’ve forgotten that part of the social contract. I got mine, and what have you done for me lately grandpa?

  4. I recall a lot of Obama’s defenders becoming quite arch when asked why he wasn’t doing x and y and z and also a and b and c. “You mean, ‘Why isn’t here doing everything?'” They were ignoring the real issue, which was, “Why is this democrat behaving like a Republican, why is he bailing out the people who wiped out the economy, why is he going after whistleblowers?”
    While Obama, the constitutional law professor was wiping his ass with the aforementioned document, the case with Sanders is different. He is fighting an entire system in which deliberate, obvious cheating is not only permitted, but also applauded by Clintonistas who simply ignore mountains of evidence proving their candidate is corrupt (kind of like how Pringle simply ignored facts and basic tenets of journalism while rubber-stamping “guilty” on your forehead). Sanders can’t just stand up there and promise everything because he won’t be able to deliver it. No one could.
    Some of his programs are weak tea, as you say. When the soldiers liberated the camps at the end of WW2, they started handing the starving people candy bars and field rations. They didn’t realize the victims were so far gone that the systemic shock of eating a chocolate bar or a K ration would kill them. I think it’s more like that.
    We, the victims of 40 years of neoliberalism, don’t realize how far gone we are. And if Sanders offers the moon and can only come through with a space station, it will kill the movement he’s started. If he promises a space station and delivers on it, people will rally behind him even more when he says, “Okay, a space station is pretty good. Now let’s try for the moon.”

    • Excellent points, Alex. One (in this context) minor matter : the soldiers liberating most of the camps, which were placed predominately in Poland, the most famous being the three at Auschwitz/Oświęcim, which was liberated by troops under Ivan Stepanovich Konev, after most of the prisoners had been «evacuated» in a process which had started a week earlier, wore the uniform of the Soviet Red Army. I doubt that many US candy bars and K rations were handed out on such occasions….

      Henri

      • Henri,

        Thanks for the clarification. I should have said that I meant those camps that were liberated by Americans. (As an American, we are taught that only the Americans liberated the camps. Other nations might have had some very minor role in that aspect–or any other–of the war, but we are forgiven for omitting the minor, very minor, roles of the French, British, Dutch, Polish, Russians, Canadians, etc. You should read what our history books tell us about Columbus. Did you know he brought people from the New World back to the Old World? Yup, that’s exactly how they put it in my earliest history texts. Not a false word to it.)

      • «As an American, we are taught that only the Americans liberated the camps. Other nations might have had some very minor role in that aspect–or any other–of the war, but we are forgiven for omitting the minor, very minor, roles of the French, British, Dutch, Polish, Russians, Canadians, etc.» I’m familiar with the common viewpoint in the «indispensable nation», Alex, i e, that the US won the war against Hitler and Tōjō single-handedly or so nearly so as makes no never minds : the British were «plucky», the French «surrender monkeys», while the Russians and the Chinese are, in principle, never mentioned. It was precisely for that reason I took the liberty of making that little aside about the nationality of the liberators of the majortiy of the Vernichtungslager….

        Henri

      • On that note – If you have a really strong stomach, read Eric Lichtblau’s The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men.

        It breaks a major taboo of WWII by looking at how chummy some of the allies were to the (defeated) Nazis – and not just by ferreting a lot of them across, but also in liberated Europe. Lichtblau documents extreme and grotesque incidents such as allies retaining Nazi security guards at some concentration camps for months…

        Of course, this is not to say that this was typical… just that every time you think you learned how to read history books critically, history shows yet more warts than even GRR Martin could get off on.

      • Andreas,
        Read a book written by a New York Times writer? That would take a stronger stomach than mine. Let me just see how much shade they threw at Bernie Sanders today…

      • > and not just by ferreting a lot of them across

        vunce the rockets are up,
        who care vere zey come down?
        dot’s not my department
        says Verner von Braun

        – Tom Lehrer,

        Gather ’round while I sing you of Wernher von Braun
        A man whose allegiance
        Is ruled by expedience
        Call him a Nazi, he won’t even frown
        “Ha, Nazi, Schmazi” says Wernher von Braun

        Don’t say that he’s hypocritical
        Say rather that he’s apolitical
        “Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down?
        That’s not my department” say Wernher von Braun

        Some have harsh words for this man of renown
        But some think our attitude
        Should be one of gratitude
        Like the widows and cripples in old London town
        Who owe their large pension to Wernher von Braun

        You too may be a big hero
        Once you’ve learned to count backwards to zero
        “In German, oder Englisch, I know how to count down
        Und I’m learning Chinese!” says Wernher von Braun

  5. [Bernard] Sanders wants to improve wages and working conditions for America’s beleaguered homecare workers. This is desperately needed—for the workers. For the aged and their caregivers, however, this means increased costs. Though happier homecare assistants will presumably do a better job, it’s odd that Sanders includes this idea as part of a retirement security agenda.

    Ted, based on experience here in Sweden, I can explain to you why better conditions for homecare assistants is a vital part of any retirement security agenda. If competent people cannot be recruited to the vital task of caring for the elderly (and others) in their homes, it will not be performed. Quod erat demonstrandum….

    Henri

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