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by Nancy Werking Poling,
author of Had Eve Come First and Jonah Been a Woman
and Out of the Pumpkin Shell
So it’s a cool morning, and being retired, I haven’t gone to work but am sitting on the front porch in my hickory rocker, reading the newspaper. A calming experience were it not for yet another article about possible cuts in Medicare and Medicaid. “We must not borrow against future generations,” a congressman says.
The Boomers are to blame, we hear, those born between 1946 and 1964. So many, and what with all the costs of Medicare and Social Security. Those Hippies, the kids in college during the 60s, they’re the ones responsible for the breakdown of American values. Now they expect the next generation to pay for them to play golf and take cruises?
Indeed, thanks to the Higher Education Act of 1965, more students than ever before attended college during the 60s. The federal government pumped money into scholarships and low-interest student loans, as well as into the universities themselves.
Yet those of us fortunate enough to attend college during the 60s tend to forget that most Boomers were not able to take advantage of the new resources. Instead, young men who weren’t in college (a disproportion of them black or Hispanic), and hence unable to get a deferment, were drafted to fight in Vietnam. The majority of young people struggled to gain personal independence, working in home and highway construction, as secretaries, as telephone operators, in factories. These Boomers felt lucky to have enough money to buy a home, set aside a little in a savings account for a rainy day. They did not have extra money to invest in the stock market or in 401Ks. For many of them no employers contributed to a pension fund.
Listen to Eric Cantor rant against wealthy Americans paying higher taxes, and you’ll hear his accusation that it’s all an effort “to incite class warfare.” He’s talking about rich-poor warfare. But consider Rick Perry saying that Social Security “is a Ponzi scheme for … young people. The idea that they’re working and paying into Social Security today, that the current program is going to be there for them, is a lie. It is a monstrous lie on this generation, and we can’t do that to them.”
Perry’s remarks are indeed inciting warfare: between the generations. Having spent two semesters in South Korea, I’ve witnessed the respect Korean young people show their elders, the genuineness of concern for their parents’ and grandparents’ comfort. But in the U.S. Rick Perry and other leaders are telling young people that Boomers are the enemy, that our generation has done nothing to earn respect and a retirement free of want.
All the while Perry and others forget that they are among the more fortunate Boomers: those with university degrees, law degrees, MBAs. They have had money to invest. When they retire they’ll receive government pensions. They don’t need Social Security or Medicare.
In 2008 the median household income for persons over 65 was $30,774, while that of younger households was $56,000 (http://aging.senate.gov/crs/aging25.pdf ). That same year, 3.7 million Americans over the age of 65 had incomes below the federal poverty level, that is below $10,326 (http://www.ncpssm.org/ss_senior_income/). Many senior citizens depend on Social Security and Medicare. They have no choice.
I don’t deny that there will be strains on the federal budget as Boomers reach retirement age. I wish I could offer a solution about where funding is to come from, but I can’t. I only ask that those who want to lead our country consider the ramifications of their rhetoric. Let them model the respect that is due the generation that helped build the economy to where it was before the recession: those who have worked in assembly lines, built our highways, driven the trucks that transported goods, cleaned the office buildings, stocked grocery shelves.
Yes, let all of us model respect.