Op-ed: Growing old with financial security

AP Photo/Charles Krupa

By Sharon Kourous

November 8, 2023

In an op-ed, Sharon Kourous of Stronger Together Huddle in Monroe highlights the need for government to more to help seniors retire and age with dignity and economic security.

This op-ed was first published in the Monroe Evening News.

In an upscale bookstore in an upscale town, I’m contemplating a difficult choice: browse some more or go downstairs for a latte? In the corner of the fiction section, a bundled gray-haired figure stirs under an untidy pile of coats. She must be there because of the compassionate store staff. I suddenly realize I could be that homeless lady if not for a few choices, some opportunities I’ve had and she had not. She is old and has no home.

At risk for a similar fate, 50% of American women and 47% of men between the ages of 55 and 66 have no retirement savings and no pension. And Social Security – which workers paid into – will work as a cushion, but not as a sole income. According to gobankingrates.com, “the average monthly Social Security payment is $1,692, which likely is not enough for most retirees to cover their expenses … especially since 71% of retirees reported carrying debts – many owe nearly $20,000.”

An article by the National Council on Aging states, “Poverty increased among Americans age 65 and older from 8.9% in 2020 to 10.3% in 2021, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data…. In total, almost 6 million older adults live below the poverty level.”

Nearly 10 million homeowners over 65 still owe on mortgages, Realtor Magazine said in 2021. The average retirement savings in 2019 was $65,000, according to The Motley Fool, and only 30% feel “on track” for retirement. According to an April 2023 CBS News article, 27% of us over 65 have no retirement savings.

Economists tell us many families are one disaster away from homelessness and have no nest eggs to cover a major illness, an accident, a fire or flood. It’s very likely an older person will encounter a medical emergency – and don’t bet insurance will pick up the tab.

If you are a person who will probably be old some day, it might be a good idea to support the political party most likely to protect your interests.

According to the National Council on Aging, the Biden-proposed budget included “a $150 billion increase in Medicaid home and community-based services (HCBS) funding, an expansion of paid family medical leave, and much-needed in funding for the U.S. Administration for Community Living (ACL)…” and would have made about 2 million adults who live in states which opted out of Medicaid expansion eligible for coverage. His administration has brought down the prices of many prescription drugs and required improved conditions in nursing homes.

Today’s seniors resoundingly prefer to age at home, and this truth is reflected in the proposed Biden budget to support caregivers and improve their working conditions (Ibid). Republicans consistently refuse to pass any budget at all – and consistently fight among themselves.

The current imbroglio in the Republican caucus reveals how little they are worried about … oh, keeping the government open … let alone meeting the needs of the elderly. They are the party that consistently works to cut Social Security or change it to an investment plan of some unspecified sort. They are the ones who have close ties to big pharma, and who are comfortable receiving donations from the pharmaceutical industry, who want to cut or destroy the Affordable Care Act, and who fight against lower prescription costs. The pro-business party is also the pro-billionaires party.

Closer to home, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s plan, according to The Monroe News on Oct. 6, proposes a creative approach to lower prescription costs for Michiganders. This was approved on a party-line vote by Michigan Democrats. No Republican support.

Retirees, in most cases don’t have much squirreled away. America is not doing well by our seniors. And for complicated reasons involving an irrational fear of the words socialism, liberal, and assistance , our support systems, tilted to favor the rich, do not support the workers who built our nation’s wealth. All too many of us live and grow old on the edge.

While the super-wealthy are vacationing on their private yachts, some seniors sleep on the streets; many can’t afford their prescriptions. Something’s not right.

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