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Why Social Security is ruining lives


Arizona Daily Wildcat

By Lora J. Mackel
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
November 18, 1999
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This summer, when President Clinton was in Tucson, he chose to give a speech outlining his concerns about Medicare and its implications for his generation. Clinton is not alone in his concern for the so-called baby boom generation; the medical community, the government, and boomers themselves have been flooding the media with alarmist stories about the plight of the elderly in the next century.

What the does this have to with us? Nearly everything, because these boomers are our parents, and the burden of their care will surely fall to us. Currently there are 78 million baby boomers in the country, 35 percent of which have children 18-29 years of age. Excluding the non-traditional students, that age range describes a great number of this undergraduate community.

What should be causing alarm in our population is the utter lack of financial planning and forethought that our parents, aunts and uncles are putting into their retirement. Currently, the median nest egg of a boomer on which to retire is the around $30,000. This sum might seem substantial to those of us coasting through survival on less than $6,000 a year. When one takes into account the average cost of a year's stay in a nursing home - around $41,000 - one quickly grasps the gravity of the situation.

Add to this the attitude that boomers take toward governmental institutions. Many boomers feel that they really do not have to save for retirement because of government programs like Social Security and Medicare. After all, they have spent at least 30 years contributing to the funds and see their parents drawing checks with regularity.

It is an oddly funny prospect that the very generation that made the rejection of the government the norm would be banking on it to bail them out when the age of frailty and infirmity comes upon them. To their attitudes, add the fact that most of them are struggling with mortgages, living on credit and paying for the increasingly expensive prospect of funding our education. They are also a generation who has for the first time had to deal with the impact of the vast improvements in medical science. Their own parents are living longer, although not always more pleasant lives. It is currently estimated that nearly 1.5 million elderly people are abused on an annual basis.

This, the "greatest generation" that is currently making up the elderly, are a great revelation to the boomers about their own destiny. Millions of the current elderly population live in abject poverty, especially women. Though it is true that science has improved life, it has also increased the cost of living. In a recent analysis of the pharmaceutical relationship to the elderly, it was conservatively estimated that 60 percent of the elderly cannot afford the medication they require to live without some sort of financial assistance.

All this spells trouble for us. The current trends toward the elderly in this country are hardly comforting, and there is real cause for concern when the elderly population expands from 8.3 million to 12 million in a matter of years. When our parents reach the age of retirement, most of us will be struggling with the burdens of children, work and money of our own, not to mention the care of our parents and possibly their parents. Logically, we must also be especially concerned that there are numerically half as many of us as there are them. The next generation that has numbers that even reach those of the boomers are the children currently in elementary school.

If one wants something to really worry about, I suggest this dilemma as an alternative to the paltry concerns of Y2K. I am not, however, a doomsday prophet. There are some encouraging aspects that are coming from the maturing boomers. They are unlikely to retire at the traditional age, nor are they likely to be in the physical condition their parents were at a similar age. The boomers for the most part are environmentally and health conscious.

It is not too late for the boomer generation to reverse the current cycle that so concerns us all. We must urge our parents to start saving realistically for their aging. We must also urge them to care for themselves diligently. But most of all, we must start looking at aging as a integral part of our life cycles, and prepare for it practically.

We owe it to our parents and to our own children.

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