What About Social Security? Topic Mostly Ignored in Pres. Election

puzzlepieceThere has been surprisingly little discussion about the future of Social Security in the ongoing presidential election campaign, leaving questions about what the candidates will actually do if elected.

Democrat Hillary Clinton’s position seems to depend upon her audience:

  • “I won’t cut Social Security. … I’ll defend it, and I’ll expand it.” www.hillaryclinton.com, February 5, 2016.
  • “In lucrative paid speeches that Hillary Clinton delivered to elite financial firms but refused to disclose to the public, she displayed an easy comfort with titans of business, embraced unfettered international trade and praised a budget-balancing plan that would have required cuts to Social Security, according to documents posted online Friday by WikiLeaks.” The New York TImes, Leaked Speech Excerpts Show a Hillary Clinton at East with Wall Street, Oct. 7, 2016.

Republican Donald Trump’s position is vague. He seems to promise not to cut Social Security for existing recipients but certainly does not commit himself to expansion of the program.

  • “I’m going to save Social Security. You have tremendous waste, fraud and abuse. We have in Social Security thousands of people over 106 years old. You know they don’t exist. There’s tremendous waste, fraud and abuse, and we’re going to get it. But we’re not going to hurt the people who have been paying into Social Security their whole life and then all of a sudden they’re supposed to get less. We’re bringing jobs back.”  Source: 2016 CBS Republican primary debate in South Carolina, Feb 13, 2016

The fate of Social Security is vital to 40 million retired Americans, including 21% of married couples and about 43% of unmarried persons who rely on Social Security for 90% or more of their income.

Of course, what politicians promise during the election season is not always what they deliver. President Barack Obama promised the following and then did the reverse:

  • “Obama will fight job discrimination for aging employees by strengthening the Age Discrimination in Employment Act … .”  Source: Blueprint for Change (2008).

Two years later, President Obama signed an executive order that carves out an exception to the ADEA that permits the nation’s largest employer, the federal government, to discriminate on the basis of age in hiring for federal jobs. This was done in plain sight but there was no protest – nor indeed any comment – from the AARP, which is busy mining its treasure trove of older members through the sales of Medigap health insurance and licensing agreements. And Obama’s administration has ignored the epidemic of age discrimination in hiring that has forced millions of older workers out of the workplace and into an uncertain and ill-advised retirement.

Why are so many retired women poor?

poor-old-ladyThe National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS) has issued a new report stating that women are 80 percent more likely than men to be impoverished at age 65 and older.

The report,  Shortchanged in Retirement, The Continuing Challenges to Women’s Financial Future,  proposes, among other things, strengthening Social Security benefits for women to reduce their vulnerability to financial hardship as they age.

Diane Oakley, NIRS executive director and report co-author, says women are  “financially disadvantaged because we still earn less than men and we typically take time out of our careers for caregiving – both of which reduce our ability to prepare for retirement.” The NIRS report also notes that women more often work for employers that do not offer a retirement plan and  women face more years in retirement because they live longer than men.

All of this is true but it is disappointing that the NIRS  does not even acknowledge a major problem facing older women – age discrimination in employment.

The NIRS report reflects the sad fact that age discrimination in employment is invisible, even to those who should know better.

Women are pushed out the workplace earlier than men and then find it far more difficult to get a new job. Women are forced to spend down their savings and take poorly paid part-time or temp work, which limits their ability to save. The median income of women age 65 and older is consistently 25 percent lower than the median income of men of the same age. Continue reading “Why are so many retired women poor?”

Theft: Social Security Retirement Fund

chris christieGov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., was the only one to substantively address the future of Social Security in this week’s Republican debate in South Carolina and he said something that is noteworthy:

“We have seniors out there who are scared to death because this Congress — this one that we have right now, just stole $150 billion from the Social Security retirement fund to give it to the Social Security disability fund. A Republican Congress did that.

And the fact is it was wrong. And they consorted with Barack Obama to steal from Social Security. We need to reform Social Security. Mine is the only plan that saves over $1 trillion and that’s why I’m answering your question.”

In the past, Christie has argued that there are only two options to save Social Security  – cut benefits for the wealthy and raise the retirement age or raise taxes for everyone.

He proposes cutting Social Security benefits for people who earn over $80,000 a year and eliminating benefits  entirely for seniors who are earn over $200,000. He also proposed increasing the retirement age by a month a year to age 68 over a 25-year period. The only other option, says Christie is raising taxes for everyone.

I checked the AARP web site to see if there was any coverage of this issue. There was a puff piece on the very spending bill that Christie is discussing and stories on “Sign Off: Tips to Avoid Holiday Porch Predators” and “Surf Safely: Watch Out for Public Wi-Fi Fraud This Holiday.” Let’s not be too judgmental. If you were earning billions through the sale of Medi-gap health insurance – which is necessary because America lacks a universal health care program – you probably wouldn’t the rock the boat either.

 

The Fourth Dimension – More Ageism in the Media

fish-and-chipsA  column by Jim Tankersley in The Washington Post claims the Baby Boomer generation is responsible for America’s woes, from the federal debt to climate change. .

A video on the web site shows two fat white boomers sipping Merlot and noshing  peanuts, with the tagline, “Baby boomers pillaged our economy. They should help fix it.”  Tankersley advocates cutting Social Security for retirees.

“Politicians shouldn’t be talking about holding that generation harmless. They should be asking how future workers can claw back some of the spoils that the “Me Generation” hoarded for itself,” writes Tankersley.

 The Fourth Estate or the Fourth Dimension?

There is no acknowledgement that.America’s tax and political structure benefits the obscenely wealthy at the expense of everyone else. Research shows that boomers are affected by wealth inequality, just like everyone else.  Moreover, boomers lost houses and savings during the Great Recession, brought on by unregulated Wall Street bankers and financiers who plundered the middle class without consequence.

Boomers today suffer from chronic long-term unemployment and epidemic age discrimination hiring. Should we blame millennials for refusing to hire older workres – or a federal government that has abdicated its responsibility to insure equal justice for all? Continue reading “The Fourth Dimension – More Ageism in the Media”

Older Women Struggle in the Workplace

There is considerable evidence that older women face unique struggles in the workplace.

  • Older women appear to experience among the highest rates of workplace bullying.
  • Older women have the highest wage gap when compared to both men and women as a group.
  • The number of age discrimination complaints filed by older women with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has skyrocketed in recent years, raising questions about whether older women are being excluded from participation in the “new” economy.

One of the biggest problems facing older women is hiring discrimination, which involves both sex and age discrimination. This is particularly obvious in the high-tech sector. Google, for example, admitted in 2014 that women comprised only 30 percent of its workplace but the company was strangely silent about the age of its employees.  A class action lawsuit  earlier this year accused Google of gross age discrimination in hiring.

It seemswomen in the workplace obvious that older women are more adversely affected by the discriminatory hiring practices of America’s high tech industries.

Meanwhile,there has been a tremendous spike in age discrimination lawsuits filed by women in recent years. Cathy Vontrell-Monsees, senior counsel for the EEOC, told the National Press Foundation earlier this year that the percentage of age discrimination cases filed by women jumped from 32 percent in 2007 to 45 percent in 2013.

It should be noted that in the early years of the ADEA, which was passed in 1967, most workers who filed age discrimination lawsuits were white, male, middle managers or professionals over the age of 50. Only about 14 percent of claimants were women. Researchers theorized that female workers were less likely to file an ADEA lawsuit because they had lower wages and didn’t stand to gain as much. The increase in age discrimination complaints filed by women may also say something about how older men are faring in the workplace. Continue reading “Older Women Struggle in the Workplace”

Labor Day: Not Much to Celebrate for Older Workers

United States Flag

There is little for older workers to celebrate this Labor Day 2015.

In recent months, the Obama administration has escalated its unprecedented assault on  the nation’s leading law prohibiting age discrimination in employment, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, blatantly favoring unemployed younger workers over unemployed older workers..

Here’s the status quo:

  • The U.S. government is actively engaged in  age discrimination in the workplace. President Barack Obama in 2010 signed an executive order that permits federal agencies to discriminate against older workers. U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez recently endorsed an effort by a coalition of America’s largest corporations to discriminate against older workers. No one seems to care.
  • Congress has failed for six years to pass the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act (POWADA). As a result, it is much more difficult for older workers to prevail in an age discrimination lawsuit than it is for workers who are victims of discrimination on the basis of race, sex (including sexual preference), religion and national origin.The POWADA would remove some of the ruinous damage that the U.S. Supreme Court inflicted on the Age Discrimination in Employment Act in 2009.
  • No group seems to be advocating for older workers in the halls of Congress. The AARP, which describes itself as the nation’s leading advocate for Americans aged 50 and above, has seen its profits skyrocket since Obamacare was passed. But older Americans have suffered from onerous co-pays and un-reimbursed medical expenses. At this point, almost half of Americans aged 65 and above are considered “economically vulnerable.”  The  AARP is the leading seller of medi-gap health insurance in the United States, and has increasingly expanded its offerings to include everything from new computers to telephones. But apparently the AARP is not making enough money to fight for the passage of  POWADA (see above).
  • Older workers are disproportionately represented in the ranks of the long-term unemployed (those workers who have been looking for work for 27 weeks or longer). Unemployed older workers are twice as likely to be chronically unemployed.  Many are forced to spend down their savings, work in low-wage part-time jobs and, ultimately, retire as soon as possible to obtain Social Security benefits. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics: 22.1 percent of the unemployed under age 25 had looked for work for 27 weeks or longer in 2014, compared with 44.6 percent of those 55 years and older.  One reason for this sorry state is epidemic and unaddressed age discrimination in hiring.
  • The Social Security Administration’s formula for dispersing Social Security benefits favors the rich and penalizes the poor (i.e. long-term unemployed who are forced into a penurious retirement due to age discrimination). Of course, women and minorities who have experienced career-long discrimination in the workplace suffer the most under this ancient benefits formula.

I could go on but you get the idea.  In my book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I advocate scrapping the ADEA and adding age as a protected class under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Library of Congress refuses to catalog my book, to make it available to policy-makers, because it is self-published. Sigh.  If you know a Congressional representative, spread the word.

If older workers and older Americans do not find real advocates in the coming year, it is very likely that nothing will change. 

Rips in the Fabric of the Social Security “Safety Net”

Much of the concern about unemployment today focuses on the alarming number of younger workers who can’t find jobs and not upon the plight of older workers who have the “safety net” of Social Security.

Of course, this is not a contest. It is a tragedy that younger workers are unemployed but it also should be of concern that older Americans are suffering. It is trueEconomic Policy Institute that Social Security keeps older Americans from homelessness and starvation but studies show that 9.5 percent of Americans over the age of 65 (including 11 percent of women) live in poverty and almost half of older Americans are “economically vulnerable.”  The so-called safety net is torn and insecure.

When Social Security was adopted in the 1930s it was not designed to be the sole source of support for older Americans in retirement. It was intended to supplement pensions and savings. The demise of  traditional defined benefit pensions began more than 30 years ago and millions of older workers lost homes and savings during the worst recession in 100 years. (2007-2009).  Many retiring workers today have nominal resources to fall back on aside from Social Security.

It should be (but sadly does not seem to be) of concern to policy-makers that older workers suffer disproportionately from age discrimination in employment and chronic long-term unemployment., which condemns them to poverty or near poverty in retirement. Continue reading “Rips in the Fabric of the Social Security “Safety Net””