13856204644_d4d1a86a76_zPhoto Credit: American Advisors Group (Creative Commons License)

If you are an American who is getting older — and who isn’t? — you will benefit from several current trends when you reach retirement age.

We have come a long way since the 1930s when half the senior population lived in poverty. After Social Security took effect 80 years ago, that rate began to decrease. It was 40 percent in 1959, and President Lyndon B. Johnson’s expansions accelerated the drop in the 1960s. By 1970, a quarter of seniors were poor; today 15 percent are still living in poverty.

In health care, medical technology and disease management should continue to advance. The reforms of health policy in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) benefit all ages. The ACA has enabled more than 9 million people on Medicare to save more than $9 billion on their prescriptions. It has also extended the life of the Medicare Trust Fund by 13 years.

More good news: the Older Americans Act, which delivers nutritional meals to seniors who would otherwise go hungry, has been renewed.

In an address to the White House Council on Aging in July, President Obama asserted that, contrary to what you may hear, neither Social Security nor Medicare — which marked its 50th anniversary this summer — is in crisis. During his administration, the deficit has been cut by two-thirds, something that clearly could not happen if the social programs were draining the economy.

Social Security and the ACA are perennial topics for debate. They are sure to come up in the next Republican candidates’ debate on Sept. 16. Since the 1930s, Republicans have been trying to cut back or privatize Social Security and eliminate, or at least defang, Obamacare since its inception.

The big challenge to these social programs comes from the Baby Boomers. Every day 10,000 of them turn 65. And they live longer and they are healthier, so finding ways to cut costs for medical and other expenses is crucial.

It is possible that Congress will succeed in revamping the social safety nets, and in that case, all bets are off. Raising the retirement age, for example, will save relatively little money, because the savings will be offset by increased spending in other programs, like Medicaid. People tend to be healthier when they are younger, so eliminating the youngest members of Medicare, who need the least care and whose contributions would benefit older, sicker persons, would increase the cost per person.

Pensions used to be almost standard in the American workplace. Workers counted on receiving a set amount of money each year after retirement. Now some of them have 401(k) plans, which depend on the health of the stock market and the investing competence of the worker. Workers no longer have a fixed, guaranteed income to supplement Social Security, which is not enough to live on. One-third of American workers have no retirement plans at all available to them at work. In every one of his budgets, the president has proposed that workers without access to a retirement plan at work be automatically enrolled in an IRA. Congress has never approved, so a few states have created retirement savings programs. Obama is urging the Department of Labor to find ways to encourage more states to do this. He would also like to crack down on such Wall Street practices as hidden fees that profit the brokers, not their clients.

Other proposals to aid seniors have come from regional forums sponsored by the WHCOA and AARP: nutritional assistance for the homebound, the updating of quality and safety requirements for nursing homes and workplace flexibility available to every worker.

All good ideas, hopeful ones. Will they come to life or be stillborn?


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  • Diane October 22, 2015 at 5:31 pm

    Yes, things have changed-some better some worse. Good blog!

  • hillsmom September 15, 2015 at 9:29 am

    After the last several weeks, I’m afraid to look at my 401k. The drop has happened before, but I’m running out of time for a recovery. The company used to match contributions up to a certain amount, but they don’t anymore. “And so it goes.”