June 2012, Week 2


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Tue, 12 Jun 2012 20:18:42 -0400
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The War on Old Folks

By Susan J. Douglas 
June 11, 2012

I'm sitting here feeling my bile rise as I eye the cover of
the publication I most love to hate, AARP The Magazine. This
one features Diane Keaton and promises to explain "How she
stays forever young." The featured tip? "Take risks - do
things you can't imagine!" Month in and month out, this rag
features well-preserved, wealthy, beaming celebrities who
suggest that aging can be defied, and also that it's just one
big blast.

I'd like to see a somewhat different cover. This one would
feature a sick, homeless grandma taking risks and doing all
the things Keaton can't imagine. Like living without
Medicare. Or Social Security. Or affordable housing. Because
if the Republicans get their way, more and more retirees are
going to be increasingly impoverished. Sarah Palin and others
may have gone ballistic over alleged "death panels," but the
real ghouls facing older people are the right-wingers in
Congress, and in all too many state houses and legislatures.

While the Republican War on Women has gained national
attention, there has been less outrage over the Republican
War on Older Americans. But the battles are everywhere. State
after state is going after pension funds. Here in Michigan,
for example, one of the first things Republican Gov. Rick
Snyder did was to impose new and higher taxes on retirement
income and public pensions. Making matters worse, our state's
long recession forced many people in their 50s to take early
retirement as employers downsized. When you retire early,
your benefits are lower than if you wait until you're 65. So
now, a larger percentage of smaller retirement eggs will be
subject to income tax. Why? To make up for cuts in the
state's business taxes.

Beyond Michigan, the AFL-CIO finds that older workers who
lose their jobs have the highest rate of long-term
unemployment, which in turn means significantly reduced
retirement income. Plus, they often have to tap into what
savings they have to get by.

So how are compassionate conservatives at the national level
responding to the needs of aging Americans? Congressman Paul
Ryan's (R-Wis.) proposed budget is a full-out, concerted
assault on old folks. According to the Service Employees
International Union (SEIU), he would cut Medicaid by $1
trillion over the next decade and convert it into a block
grant to the states, which would result in deep cuts to vital
services for seniors. Medicaid, according to SEIU, "is the
nation's main source of payment for long-term care, covering
a million nursing home residents and paying for 41 percent of
all long-term care expenditures in the country." Clearly,
those folks will be much more comfy living in a refrigerator
box under an overpass.

Also, under Ryan's plan, starting in 2022, Medicare would no
longer exist. Instead, people currently in their early 50s
would, when they retire, get a voucher to purchase private
health insurance, thus transferring control of Medicare to
the health insurance industry.Citing a Congressional Budget
Office estimate, SEIU predicts that under this plan 20
million retirees won't have Medicare when they retire, and
that such a voucher program will double healthcare costs for
seniors. It also notes that Ryan's plan proposes to "cut
future Social Security benefits for everyone who is earning
more than $22,000 a year right now."

According to Howard Gleckman, author of Caring for Our
Parents, other services targeted at seniors also face
threats. In an article for Forbes, Gleckman writes, "These
critical supports for those receiving care at home, such as
transportation, nutrition, and counseling, as well as
caregiver assistance . would take the biggest hit," with the
possibility that federal funding for most of these programs
would be entirely eliminated. The Administration on Aging
budget took a $23 million hit in 2012, about a 2 percent
decrease; Aging network supports like the Eldercare Locator,
the ombudsman program and the Alzheimer's Disease
demonstration program were cut by almost two- thirds.

So, my dears, despite what AARP The Magazine and many of us
would like to pretend, we actually all do age. And public
policy may matter more for us then than ever, given fixed
incomes and increased vulnerabilities. In short, those among
us who are not Diane Keaton should be scared, and we need to
resist this assault with all we've got. 


Susan J. Douglas is a professor of communications at the
University of Michigan and an In These Times columnist. Her
latest book is Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That
Feminism's Work is Done (2010).


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