Monday, May 16, 2011

Shared sacrifice

In "The elderly must share the financial burden," columnist Robert Samuelson takes on the long-cultivated stereotype that senior citizens are only a Social Security check from destitution:
From 1959 to 2007, the proportion of the 65-plus population with incomes under the government's poverty line ($12,968 for a couple in 2009) dropped from 35.2 percent to 9.7 percent, which was half the poverty rate for children under 18 (18 percent).

The proportion of elderly living in the "high income" group - defined as four times the poverty line, or almost $52,000 for a couple in 2009 - rose from 18.4 percent in 1980 to 30.6 percent in 2007.

In 2007, the median net worth (that is, assets minus debts) of 65-plus households was $237,000, about twice the amount for households aged 45 to 54. Among 65-plus married couples, median net worth was $385,000.
This is one of the things that drives me batty when we talk about "fairness" in America's entitlement system. There's very little that's "fair" about transferring large sums of cash from young workers to relatively affluent seniors, especially when everybody knows the system will not offer the same level of support when those workers grow old.

Social Security was formed when Americans when seniors were living in poverty because they could not do the physical labor demanded of the Depression era. Today seniors are healthier, wealthier, and labor is much less strenuous - yet talk of reforming entitlements is a taboo. Sooner or later (I'm guessing sooner), younger Americans are going to figure out that they're at the bottom of this pyramid scheme.

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