EDITOR’S VIEWPOINT/A cool retirement
What are we supposed to do with the old people now that more of us are living longer? Eskimos used to set them adrift on icebergs. Moses was considerate enough to climb to the top of a mountain and disappear. And in the movie Soilent Green, we just ate them.
We’ve been in denial for years about our assistance programs for senior citizens, and if the federal government isn’t careful about how it changes Social Security and health care, local and state governments may be facing an unprecedented financial crisis.
Feeling the pinch from federal health care cutbacks, counties have just started to politely squeal. In a recent letter to the president, the National Association of Counties suggested that reforms to Medicaid only shift the costs to local governments. New York’s Medicaid costs, for example, increased 11 percent between 2002 and 2003, while New Hampshire’s county nursing homes were under-funded by more than $37 million in 2003.
Getting the picture? And, now the president has made reforming Social Security a priority using his familiar “create a crisis campaign.” Early versions of his plan, however, will mean fewer guaranteed benefits, more private retirement money at risk and a higher deficit. And, don’t delude yourself into believing that these reforms will be good for local and state government. Your older residents will still get sick, need housing or food, and, by default, local and state governments will become the providers of last resort.
Part of the president’s plan is to allow workers to privately invest a percentage of the money currently going into their Social Security account. Of course, that scheme plays well with the “it’s your money, anyway,” crowd, who conveniently forgets the social contract required to live in civilized society (unless helping the sick or poverty stricken isn’t in your definition of “civilized”).
Private investment accounts themselves are in so much trouble that the president is working on a plan to save the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., which spiraled from an $8 billion surplus in 2001 to a $23 billion deficit in 2004. Even the conservative Wall Street Journal recently reported that so many workers are making poor investment decisions with their private pension plans that dozens of large companies, such as Alcoa and J.C. Penney are offering the assistance of professional investment advisors.
Although Social Security has become the focus of our ever-decreasing attention span, the government should be broadening its goal to create an economically viable plan to ensure every aspect of old age care. And government, not business, should be responsible because business and its pension plans can disappear but government cannot.
Or, look at it this way: If government fails, then maybe we can count on global warming to provide a few extra ice chunks to float us into retirement.