Alzheimer’s patients are afflicted by plaque on their brains that causes them to lose their short-term memory and makes them confused. It doesn’t help that medical professionals look down on them.
Forget terrorism, Ebola or even climate change — the most dangerous threat to this country is an epic retirement crisis.
We will soon see tens of millions of Americans reduced to poverty, bringing an end to the United States as an economic superpower.
Unlike attacks and pandemics, this crisis is an absolute certainty, one with a clear, near start date. But the media is hardly mentioning the imminent retirement crisis. So politicians haven’t even begun to think about it, much less take it seriously.
Actually, “retirement crisis” is a misnomer. The problem isn’t that people won’t be able to retire or will be living on a shoestring, though those things are true. We’re staring down the barrel of an epic old age crisis. For the average American, to be elderly will mean not mere belt-tightening, but real, grinding poverty: homelessness and hunger.
Throughout the last few decades, vulnerable people living from payday to payday have gotten battered by the shredding of the government safety net, a lack of accumulated savings caused by the boom-and-bust cycle of capitalism, and a lackluster real estate market.
Now members of the poor and lower middle class in their 50s and 60s are heading into a retirement crisis created by a perfect superstorm.
Traditional defined-benefit pension plans have been replaced by stingy 401(k)s and similar programs which employers no longer pay into, cap how much you can contribute (assuming you can afford it), take a beating during downturns in the stock market, and allow workers to tap when they’re laid off or run into financial trouble. After years of sketchy raids and outright theft, workers with old-fashioned corporate and government pensions can’t be sure their money will be there when they need it. The first Generation Xers — many of whom never had the opportunity to accumulate wealth due to several long recessions that impacted them particularly hard — will reach the traditional retirement age of 65 in the year 2024.
The facts are brutal:
No savings: The average Gen Xer only has a net worth of about $40,000 — enough to live on for a year. Maybe. In Akron. 36% of Americans don’t have a dime saved for retirement.
Later Social Security: Thanks to that lovable wacky Ronald Reagan, the Social Security retirement age was quietly raised to 67 for Gen Xers born after 1960. When you finally get Social Security, it doesn’t pay enough. The U.S. ranks third to last in social security benefits among developed nations.
Age discrimination: The continuing post-2008 recession hit those in their 50s especially hard; employers want cheaper, younger workers. 25% of Americans over age 55 now have no savings whatsoever.
About those pension plans: When journalists mention the retirement crisis, they focus on problems with the defined-benefit system. But that’s irrelevant to most Americans. 90% of private-sector workers don’t have one. Most government workers do — but 85% of Americans work in the private sector.
401ks suck (if you have one). Three out of four workers have no pension plan. What they might have is a 401k. The average Gen Xer who has a 401k — 69% don’t — has a $63,000 balance.
Financial experts say 92% of U.S. workers fall significantly short of what they’ll need to live decently after retirement. “In the decades to come,” Edward Siedle writes for Forbes, “we will witness millions of elderly Americans, the Baby Boomers and others, slipping into poverty. Too frail to work, too poor to retire will become the ‘new normal’ for many elderly Americans.”
This is about you — not some theoretical lazy Other.
“At some point,” Siedle says, “lack of savings, lack of employment possibilities and failing health will catch up with the overwhelming majority of the nation’s elders. Let me emphasize that we’re talking about the overwhelming majority, not a small percentage who arguably made bad decisions throughout their working lives.” [Emphasis is mine.]
America’s army of starving old people will drag down younger people too. “Public finances will be pushed to the limit, crowding out other priorities such as education,” Christian E. Weller predicts in The Hill. “Moreover, economic growth will be slower than it otherwise would be because employers will have more workers whose productivity is declining, while many older families, who could start successful new businesses, will forego those opportunities.”
And the pols?
Useless, Siedle concludes. “Conservatives are trying to pare back so-called entitlements that will mushroom in the near future and liberals have failed to acknowledge the crisis or propose any solutions.”
We can hit the streets to demand action now — or we’ll be living on them later.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
Dole’s Secret Youth Strategy Revealed
As a stunned America reels from the shock of pre-selected Republican nominee Bob Dole’s emergence as the Republican nominee, patriotic citizens should read the following secret memo—faxed to me by a Dole mole. As a dutiful public service, I have opted to relinquish my normal weekly column space. Instead, I am releasing this explosive internal strategy paper, for the good of the country and to improve my lagging sales:
PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL—EYES ONLY
To: Bob Dole
cc: ___ _____________
From: C___s__ __in___
Dole ’96 National Youth Coordinator
Re: Youth Strategy for General Election
As you know, voters under 35 years of age have emerged as a potent political force. They were single-handedly responsible for Clinton’s 1992 win, but the Little Rock Mafia has failed to market themselves to this key group. For the first time in recent electoral history, the GOP has the chance to appeal to young people.
Not only are young voters (a.k.a. Generation Xers, twentysomethings, twentynothings, posties, Baby Busters, slackers, scum) the determinative demographic group this year—they are also the least worried about your age. February’s New York Times/CBS News poll revealed that 41 percent of respondents aged 65 and older think you’re too old to be an effective president, compared to 39 percent of those aged 45 to 64, or 31 percent of those 30 to 34, and 29 percent of those aged 18 to 29.
Says typical voter Mary Laurent, a Republican from Hollywood, Florida: “I’ll be 74. He’s 72. I think he looks pretty good but sometimes he looks tired. It all depends on who he picks as his Vice Presidential candidate.”
Moreover, you’ve alienated older people with your support of a plan to gut Medicare spending by $275 billion over seven years. Two-thirds of these selfish seniors oppose you on Medicare.
The data is clear: Sucking up to geezers is a losing game. If a Dole candidacy is to be successful, it must concentrate on issues and images that appeal to voters under 35. Specifically:
Baby Boomer Backlash. Difficult as it may be to believe, in light of the “generation gap” rhetoric of the ’60s, Gen Xers have more in common with older Americans over 60 than they do with Boomers (now aged 35 to 50).
Both the elderly and the young came of age under a stagnant economy. Young people, busy working several jobs to survive, do not empathize with their comparatively wealthy (middle-aged) Boomer seniors and their ceaseless search for personal self-fulfillment. Their disdain for a generation they blame for abandoning activism and embracing laissez-faire capitalism—often at their expense, by underpaying them—is impossible to exaggerate.
For Gen Xers, Clinton exemplifies the Baby Boomer stereotype—out-of-touch, wishy-washy, hypocritical, opportunistic, full of flexible idealism. Ask them about Renaissance Weekends, $100 haircuts, Hillary’s “luck” at the futures market or Chelsea’s private-schooling and they roll their eyes. While they’ve passed the last twenty years watching Boomers like Clinton racing to sell out; they never had anyone to sell out to. Gen Xers lost the vast majority of jobs caused by downsizing. They blame Clinton for supporting NAFTA. They overcame their annoyance at their Boomer bosses, gave Clinton’s generation a chance to run the country and got screwed.
Issues for Youngsters. Our focus groups tell us that young voters feel particularly strongly about economic issues. I recommend that you embrace the following promises in your platform at San Diego:
• Student Loan Forgiveness Plan: Your bland balanced-budget pitch (“Interest rates would drop 2 percent!”) is dead in the water. With the federal student-loan program bleeding $20 billion in defaults, ex-students aren’t paying them back anyway. The switch from grants to loans during the Reagan years saddled an entire generation of Americans with debt, preventing them from buying homes and stagnating the housing market. So let the Treasury repay old student loans. Recommended soundbite: “Let’s get real and revive the American Dream.”
• End Reverse Ageism: Drop the minimum car-rental age (now 25) and the drinking age from 21 to 16. Extend senior-citizen discounts to the young, who need it more. Soundbite: “If you’re old enough to work, you need a drink!”
• Corporate Responsibility: You’ve already cashed in on Pat Buchanan’s anti-corporate shtick. Go further by banning profit-enhancement layoffs. Support the SEC’s proposal to force corporations—the biggest employer of young voters—to limit their top salaries to no more than 20 times that of their lowest-paid employee. Soundbite: “Baby Boomers already got theirs. Let’s reward our future before it’s too late.”
• Your Vice President: Since you will probably die in office, choose a vibrant, hip veep, like Al Pacino (a gifted Italian-American actor, see “City Hall,” now playing at Georgetown Multiplex). Forget Colin Powell (black general/author)—when this generation grew up only losers went into the military. If you want to make a dual ploy for Xers and the black vote, consider Magic Johnson (photogenic basketball legend w/AIDS). A woman veep would go over well with kids raised overwhelmingly by divorced women, but Christi(n)e Whitman (NJ governor w/ ambiguous first name) is too patrician, too uptight. You’ll have to look outside the Republican party. Soundbite: “Two presidents for the price of one!”
Hip Imagery. Drop the “Comeback Adult” comparison rhetoric. Twenty-year-old voters consider Clinton too old as it is. Most young voters didn’t have fathers or extended families, so play the role of the wacky grandfather figure they never had. A lot of irrelevant old farts have cashed in on their ironic appeal with young adults(reverse hip): Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Pat Boone. Why not you? Everything square is hip again: the Little Rascals, lunch boxes, gas guzzlers. Don’t fight your age…revel in it! Emphasize your stodgy demeanor and links with the past, use make-up that makes you look even older.
Balance your retro appeal with up-to-date tactics: Appear with Courtney Love (seedy rock singer, see attached cassette) on MTV (cable-TV music channel). Consider a nose ring (like an earring, but goes in nostril). Refer to lines from Tarantino movies (young actor/director, see attached VHS tape) to explain your position on issues (On the minimum wage: “Hey, this is one great $5 milkshake.”). Discuss your World War II experiences in hard-boiled terms appealing to young people (“Sure, we played football with their skulls, but hey—no one asked them to bomb Pearl Harbor.”).
I realize that much of the pandering to the stapled-nose crowd I’ve outlined above may feel somewhat awkward. But bear in mind that you’ve managed to hold down your lunch while promising the world to the Christian Coalition. You can win without the Creationist lunatics, but you can’t win without the young. As always, I’ll be at (202) ___-____ if you need me.
(Ted Rall, 32, a syndicated editorial cartoonist for Chronicle Features and freelance writer, is the author of Waking Up In America (1992) and All The Rules Have Changed (1995).)