November 18, 2013

ARMERDING: Smaller increases in Social Security

by Taylor Armerding Guest columnist

---- — Let’s have an honest conversation about Social Security.

Just kidding. What I really mean is that I want to declare my views on the matter and have everybody else nod in assent and refrain from any uncomfortable, “divisive” questions or comments.

Hey, why not? I’m just following the example of our dear leaders. One of the biggest whoppers you hear from a member of the political class is that he or she longs for an “honest conversation” about some hot-button issue.

They don’t – unless it’s one-sided. Sort of like Attorney General Eric Holder, when he said back in 2009 that America was a “nation of cowards,” unwilling to have an honest, forthright conversation about race. But then, anybody who took issue with anything he said was a racist!

That’s pretty much the way it is when it comes to calls for an honest conversations about how to keep Social Security solvent for the long term. Suggest any kind of curb on the growth of this massive entitlement – not a cut, simply a modest slowing of the growth – and you are immediately painted as an elder abuser, looking to kick grandma out of her wheelchair onto the curb with nothing but a dry biscuit to eat and a moth-eaten shawl to shelter her from the freezing wind.

You are also probably the kind of person who would undermine her dignity by questioning how much she spends on lottery tickets. Oh, the humanity!

Well, as someone who entered the Medicare generation last month (on the very day Obamacare took effect – how’s that for irony?), I am going to claim a small measure of credibility on the subject of political propaganda about elders.

Yes, there are poor, sick, dependent elders. They need and depend on the entitlements that a compassionate society should, and can afford to, provide.

But it is dishonest even to imply, as so many liberal politicians do, that they are the majority. They aren’t.

Who are the majority of people traveling the country in obese, lavishly expensive motor homes that look like they get a couple of gallons to the mile? Elders. Who are the majority of people lining up for tee times at the most prestigious golf courses in the country? Elders. What demographic group has the money to eat out more than they eat at home? Elders. Who are the majority of people you find on luxury cruise ships? Elders.

The American Association of Retired People – the massive lobbying group that explodes in outrage at the smallest whisper of slowing the unaffordable growth of entitlements to elders – is apparently unaware of how comically hypocritical it is.

When discussions about lower cost-of-living increases in Social Security are on the table – as they are now, even from President Obama – the AARP wails about how frail and helpless its members are – how they are just one Social Security check away from utter destitution, which these days amounts to something like no cable TV.

But, in its monthly magazine, it puts hot-looking actors or actresses on the cover and is filled with stories about virile, athletic elders who are traveling, hiking, water skiing, running, dancing, having sex, sky diving, writing books, starting businesses and everything else that younger people do.

A few years ago, they put Lauren Hutton on the cover with the headline, “Sixty is the new Thirty.” By that measure, Social Security shouldn’t even kick in until age 90. And it bears repeating that a cut is not on the table – just less of an increase.

Their complaint is like somebody who has been getting 5 percent annual raises and then gets a 4 percent raise complaining that his pay got cut.

The fact is that the over-65 population is, on average, much better off financially than younger groups, for a number of reasons. They get discounts everywhere they go, on everything from cups of coffee to admission to movies, museums, amusement parks and more.

They may have less in raw income, but have more left over at the end of the month, since a majority has paid off their mortgage and their kids are out of college. They don’t have the expenses that those in their 30s and 40s do.

Add to that the findings of a recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis – that the young and middle-aged were hit much harder by the financial crisis than elders. Income for those younger population groups dropped about 12 percent, while for older Americans it increased by 12-15 percent.

Finally, any honest conversation about sustaining Social Security has to deal with the reality that elders are living much longer than when Social Security began. Then, the average was about three years. Now it is 13 and growing. Pushing the age to collect to 70 or even 72 would not harm the vast majority of elders, and would preserve the program for future generations.

And please, no bogus claims that elders are just, “getting back what they paid in.” That’s not how it works. President George W. Bush tried to make it that way and got smacked down by Democrats.

None of this has to hurt truly poor, sick and dependent elders. That’s why we have welfare, Medicaid and Medicare.

The president and his followers obsess about everybody “paying their fair share.” In this case, a large population group is receiving more than its fair share. That has to end.

Taylor Armerding is an independent columnist. Contact him at