Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Growing old in America ... not for the faint-hearted

Why is it that the inner me doesn't match the outer me?  I'm only 18 on the inside but the outer me displays for all to see that I have added an extra half century to that.  I follow a wonderful blog for those in my demographic - Time Goes By.  It is American, so there is a bit of a difference.  But every Sunday (Monday our time), there is a music post done by an Australian living in Melbourne.  I highly commend it. Glenn A Baker, please take note.

To-day, I have lifted a post from Time Goes By ... just a reminder of how good things can be in the Land of Oz and how pathetic a once great nation such as the USA has become for ordinary folk. To be sure, there are some things Australian elders will recognise from their life experience - but we do have more substantial undergirding, in my view, than US citizens have.  So please, no whingeing after reading this ... just thankfulness that Oz has not become an altogether thoughtless, compassion-less country ... yet.
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If you are old today – let's say 55 and up – and not wealthy (that is, most of us), you live under constant threat of financial disaster. Here is Crabby Old Lady's list of what has happened to elders in the past four years since the 2008 crash:
  1. IRAs, 401(k)s and other retirement investments have been decimated; many have never recovered and never will

  2. Home values have dropped by a third or more leaving many with underwater mortgages and in some cases, unfair foreclosures

  3. Millions have been and continue to be laid off from their jobs

  4. Age discrimination means it takes older workers longer to find the next job than any other age group

  5. Many older workers who don't find that next job are forced into early retirement resulting in a lower Social Security Security benefit for life
[Crabby understands that people of all ages are living with brutal financial circumstances but this blog is concerned with elders.]

For many elders, the slightest uptick in food prices, for example, or even a minor emergency can mean choosing between eating and buying prescribed medications.

Those are the current conditions. Let's take a look at some of the threats.
  • About half the politicians in Congress want to take away or dramatically cut Social Security, Medicare and food stamps among other programs for the poor, disabled and aged. 
  • Just as many of them, along with a large number of state governors, want to kill Medicaid which affects elder dual eligibles.
  • Many of those same elected officials want to raise the retirement age – that is, the age at which full Social Security benefits are allowed – to 70.


Generally, Crabby Old Lady has no objection to people working longer than 66 or 67 but only if they are physically capable so she believes that any legislation raising the retirement age must include accommodation for those whose bodies cannot do it any longer.

Please recall, too, as we have said here many times, that people's bodies age at dramatically different rates so it is not just those who have done heavy physical labor who may not be able to continue working.

With all that in mind, however, there is the elephant in the room, the unspoken Catch-22:  they already refuse to allow us work even until we reach the current retirement age.

It's called age discrimination in the workplace. It has always existed but it has become grimly more visible during our four-year recession than in the past.

The average length of unemployment for older workers is at an all-time high — well over a year. On average, it takes someone age 55 or older three months longer to find a job than a younger person.
“These long-term unemployed are disproportionately composed of older workers — who, compared to younger workers, are less likely to lose their jobs, but more likely to have trouble finding re-employment if they are laid off,” reports The New York Times

“Given how far behind these workers have already fallen, it may turn out that many of these Americans will never work again.”
Exactly. Just like me as I've written about here in the past. But I was 63 when I was laid off from my last job. Even though with careful budgeting and belt-tightening I was able to squeak by until I was old enough for full benefits at age 65 and 10 months, I still wound up with a reduced Social Security benefit for not having any income during the last two-and-a-half years until my eligibility.

It's much worse if you are laid off, for example, in your late fifties or early sixties and must scrimp by until age 62 and then take reduced early Social Security benefit. And don't forget that when you do that, you're stuck at the lower figure for the rest of your life. But many have no choice if they enjoy eating.

Speaking of eating, 46.2 million people (nearly one in seven Americans) receive food stamp (SNAP program) aid. According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), three million of them are elders.
[By the way, many more elders than the three million are eligible but do not know it. If you believe you or someone you know might be among them, you can find eligibility rules for people age 60 and older here.]

Last week, the House passed a farm bill that cuts $16 billion from the SNAP program while retaining subsidies for corporate farmers. If the bill passes in the Senate, between two and three million people will be thrown off SNAP and 21 million children will no longer qualify for free school lunches.

So one way or another, the people who already stole elders' savings, homes and livelihoods leaving millions in drastically reduced financial circumstances for their old age now seek to further impoverish them.

This is how it is to be old in America today. 

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Australian Medicare Services (universal medical insurance, etc)
Pharmaceutical benefits  (unlike Americans we don' have to cross borders to get affordable medicine)
Chronic Disease Dental Scheme (this is coming to an end - will have to see how what comes next works)
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