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Bernie's Plan to Address the Retirement Crisis: Good It Exists, But Not Nearly Enough to Solve the Problem
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Two weeks ago, Bernie Sanders announced his “right to a secure retirement” plan. The media didn’t notice, the voters didn’t care, and 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 1 out of 5 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 millions of Americans’ growing into old age with inadequate savings and pensions as health care 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 ways 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 a 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 homeware workers. This is desperately needed — for the workers. For the aged and their caregivers, however, this means increased costs. Though happier homeware assistants would presumably do a better job, it’s odd that Sanders includes this idea as part of a retirement security agenda.

ORDER IT NOW

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 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: lousy legislation, and such small portions! 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” response to a robocall 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 Chavez, gas cost 7 cents a gallon in Venezuela. Chavez’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 country, the richest nation on the planet. It’s simply a matter of reallocating resources from the super wealthy and law-breaking 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: 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 Donald 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.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: 2020 Election, Bernie Sanders, Social Security 
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  1. turtle says:

    oldest Xers are graying, aching, 57

    Suck it up and play, Ted.
    We “boomers,” your elders, are still working, because we have no choice.
    “Retirement,” for many of us, will occur only when Rick Deckard, or one of his colleagues, shows up.

  2. FortHay says:

    “. . .Sanders has proposed a plan to address millions of Americans’ growing into old age with inadequate savings and pensions. . .”

    So you spent 40+ years not using the IRA exemption, nor paying down your mortgage or putting 10% into a 401k and now come whining and expect the current and next generations to bail you out? There are some genuine hardship cases, no doubt, but the burden of the problem lies with the shortsighted and irresponsible habits during a working life ripe with opportunities.

    • Replies: @IvyMike
    , @animalogic
  3. IvyMike says:
    @FortHay

    I’m a Boomer who did everything right, we worked hard, were pretty frugal, managed credit responsibly, invested conservatively, bought a beautiful home on 2 acres that is paid for and has more than doubled in value, HaHa. We have retired early, and life is sweet. But a lot of people, maybe most people, aren’t very good at this modern life, and then there is the matter of luck. We have been lucky.There is a serious compassion deficit in this USA, how can you say, ‘I got mine so screw you’ and still claim to be a human being?
    I will give you the benefit of the doubt on “life ripe with opportunities”, surely that was a typo?
    Kudos to turtle for the Deckard comment…

    • Replies: @MarkinLA
  4. MarkinLA says:
    @IvyMike

    The problem with Sanders is that he isn’t talking about subsidizing a few thousand people who weren’t lucky. He is talking about tens of millions of people. Many of them are parents of immigrants who never contributed anything into the system and took more out than their kids (who got their visas to come here) ever put in.

    You see this all the time in southern California, immigrants getting their parents over here and immediately getting them on welfare and section 8 housing. There is no way the taxes the kids pay even come close, let alone contribute enough for their own retirement checks when the time comes.

    Compassion is something you do for a small handful of people, not 20% of the population.

    • Replies: @animalogic
  5. @MarkinLA

    “There is no way the taxes the kids pay even come close, let alone contribute enough for their own retirement checks when the time comes.”
    You have to start somewhere, sometime. Calculating on the basis of “what you deserve” means you’ll never even start.

  6. @FortHay

    I’m not even going to bother to address your miserable old- testament attitudes.
    I’ll merely give you my view — take a few hundred billion out of the War & Bastardary budget & apply it across the board to the public good. The US is a RICH country. It can AFFORD the public good. Of course, there’s lots of mean bastards who simply choke at the thought that someone might be “given” something. Better just to WASTE trillions on war, rich parasites, prisons & generally being NASTY to everyone except ever self righteous Puritans.

  7. Good of you to mention Venezuela, as the prime example of where prog policies lead. But I’m still curious. Why don’t you give us an estimate of how much your policies are likely to cost in the USA? And while you’re answering that question, a realistic estimate of the cost, how it’s going to be payed, and who’s going to be paying it.

    No fair saying that cuts in military spending will handle the problem. The military budget is dwarfed by so-called entitlements like Social Security and Medicare. Besides, the military budget is another major federal welfare program. Individuals depending on it would just have to seek alternative forms of welfare should their current income stream be eliminated.

    And no fair saying that further taxing the rich will cover the planned policies. If all the income of the so-called 1% (some $3 Trillion) were confiscated, it wouldn’t cover current federal expenditures (some $4.5 Trillion). If half the entire wealth of the 1% (roughly $30 Trillion) were confiscated it would be just sufficient to pay off current government federal, state and local debt and pension promises. But that transfer would utterly destroy the US economy.

  8. Polly says:

    “It’s simply a matter of reallocating resources from the super wealthy and law-breaking corporations to individual people who need them more.”

    SIMPLY??

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