Baby Boomers, Fairness and Our Nation’s Economy

I enjoy going to Pittsburgh the day after Christmas. And I’ve been doing that to visit my Mom and Dad and my three brothers and their families for better than 35 years now.

It’s fun to be in the City of Champions where pro football is still played this time of year — and where the games actually mean something. I’ve opined before that  one of the virtues — perhaps the only one — of professional sports is that it tends to unite people on a mission: celebrating success and rallying around common goals. When was the last time residents of a city sat glued to a TV to watch the performance of City Council members or the local school board? LOL

I hope I live long enough for the long-suffering residents of Northeast Ohio to experience a championship season — and in the case of football — the exhilarating effect it can have on a city and region during the holiday season. Saying that, in my case the actuarial tables are starting to tip in the wrong direction. Mike Holgrem: Come on down! Just sayin’.

It’s also fun for me to visit with my nieces and nephews, having watched them grow and mature year-by-year from babies to wonderful teenagers and young adults.  And I hope for them — and for my son and daughter and millions of others at the same age and place in life — that they have the opportunity to build a good life in a country that until now offered each generation the prospect of doing better than the ones that came before it.

Those days may be over — and that’s something we should be concerned about.

That brings us to the issue of fairness — and what is going to be a huge and significant policy debate in this country in the next few years. And it is going to happen — like it or not. We can’t support measures to create and maintain high-quality jobs, education that will allow our young people to succeed in today’s global economy, an outrageously expensive presence as the world’s policeman and so on while paying all of the bills that are coming due as the Baby Boomers — and yeah, I’m one of them — move into the golden years.

Here’s from Robert J. Samuelson, writing in the WaPo, “On Medicare and Social Security, be unfair to the boomers“:

I received my Medicare card the other day, recognizing my 65th birthday and making me part of one of America’s biggest problems. By this, I mean the burden that the massive baby-boom generation will impose on its children and the nation’s future. There has been much brave talk recently, from Republicans and Democrats alike, about reducing budget deficits and controlling government spending. The trouble is that hardly anyone admits that accomplishing these goals must include making significant cuts in Social Security and Medicare benefits for baby boomers.

If we don’t, we will be condemned to some combination of inferior policies. We can raise taxes sharply over the next 15 or 20 years, roughly 50 percent from recent levels, to cover expanding old-age subsidies and existing government programs. Or we can accept permanently huge budget deficits. Even if that doesn’t trigger a financial crisis, it would probably stunt economic growth and living standards. So would dramatically higher taxes. There’s a final choice: deep cuts in other programs, from defense to roads to higher education.

Yet, neither political party seems interested in reducing benefits for baby boomers. Doing so, it’s argued, would be “unfair” to people who had planned retirements based on existing programs. Well, yes, it would be unfair. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a worse time for cuts. Unemployment is horrendous; eroding home values and retirement accounts have depleted the elderly’s wealth. Only 19 percent of present retirees are “very confident” of having enough money to live “comfortably,” down from 41 percent in 2007, reports the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

But not making cuts would also be unfair to younger generations and the nation’s future. We have a fairness dilemma: Having avoided these problems for decades, we must now be unfair to someone. To admit this is to demolish the moral case for leaving baby boomers alone. Baby boomers – I’m on the leading edge – and their promised benefits are the problem. If they’re off-limits, the problem is being evaded. Together, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid represent two-fifths of federal spending, double defense’s share.

Ah, gulp.

It is a matter of fairness — and political will.

Clearly something is going to have to be done — and I’m OK personally with that as long as it is thoughtful, part of an overall plan, and, yes, fair. I’m not much int0 redistributing wealth these days just for the sake of political expediency or correctness.

And the coming policy and legislative fights on these and other issues involving the future of our nation’s economy and our way of life are going to be difficult, without easy solutions.

But it’s important that we get something done. And let’s hope it doesn’t take as long as it may take the Cleveland Browns to experience the joy of a championship season.




2 responses to “Baby Boomers, Fairness and Our Nation’s Economy

  1. Get real. When the health care corporations charge the same or similar that is charged in most developed countries — presto! No problem. Don’t go for this crap. Social Security was essentially paid for — where did the money go? We know. The medical expenditures are outrages because their is not a public option to keep the private companies in line. Don’t let those who voted for tax cuts for the super wealthy now turn around and say you have to tighten your medical and social security belt. It’s crap. Time to play this game with some teeth showing.

  2. “Yet, neither political party seems interested in reducing benefits for baby boomers. Doing so, it’s argued, would be “unfair” to people who had planned retirements based on existing programs.”

    Yes it would be unfair! But, anyone with just a little common sense knows that being “fair” or “unfair” does not mean beans to the politicians. They will do what is expedient for them and their careers irregardless of who and how it affects.

    When I was young, I tried and would have opted out of social security and invested for my future my way but could not. Now that I have paid in to this fraud scheem for 40 plus years, one TV commercial puts it this way. ‘It’s my money and I want it now.’

    I do think that SS could be amended to allow baby boomers to continue to work with no maximum salary restraint, draw their minimum benefit payment and continue to pay into the system on wages earned. This would create two paychecks for those wishing to work. It would create continued payments in to the system and a 4 or 5 year cushion. It would curtail the bubble shock of millions of baby boomers retiring and beginning to draw SS. It could provide future generations a solvent SS system to look forward to.

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