Saturday, August 27, 2016

"Hello, Seniors!" The Economics of Aging

© Joe Heller, Green Bay Press-Gazette

Exactly what is considered "old" varies according to whether a given industry thinks it can make money off of you, versus whether it feels obligated to pay you. AARP is lowering the "retirement age" to recruit new members, while the Social Security Administration would very much like to raise the retirement age somewhere past infinity.

I remember back in the day (now I am really dating myself) when you started getting discounts, free stuff and, mostly, respect, around age 55. Coincidentally, that is where I am at currently, and none of these promised benefits is anywhere in sight. Seriously, where are the rewards for putting up with the world for more than half a century? Endurance ought to count for something, and I grew up with the notion that you "respect your elders." Today, our older generations are caricatures and stereotypes of themselves, constantly reinforced by advertising.

"Help, I've fallen and I can't get up!" is the classic interpretation of aging now. If you are a male, I suppose it is more like "Help, I can't get it up!" The point is that our society is all too eager to celebrate the negative side of aging through products, while terribly reluctant to recognize the personal and at-large hardships that older persons have overcome. If there is not a profit to be made from you or your frailty, then you are ignored. Worse yet, every effort is made to avoid obligations made to you through your employment history and government programs.

The problems with social security, for example, began to intensify when politicians began referring to the program as an "entitlement," as if those individuals who stand to gain from it are acting like demanding little brats instead of the exhausted adults they are, indeed entitled to what they, and their employers, put into coffers as a reward for time served, and to allow the next generation gainful employment in a given industry, at a given company.

Greed has taken hold now, and there is a relentless effort to privatize social security such that once again a profit can be made off the backs of the labor force. This amounts to an employee working twice: once for their employer, doing actual labor, and second for Wall Street speculators to use retirement funds to rake in cash for those who are already wealthy beyond reason. Ironically, those who can most easily partake of the benefits of stocks, real estate, and related markets are those very CEOs and other high-ranking corporate types who employed the people they would then be exploiting through privatized social security.

Scams. Oh, the scams that are taking elderly people to the cleaners. Well, if you ask me, old folks have already seen it all, and the vast majority are skeptical of legitimate offers, let alone anything that sounds too good to be true. Not every person over seventy-five is on the verge of Alzheimer's, dementia, or some other mind-degrading illness.

What should trouble us more is the pervasive condition of neglect and physical distance between the elderly and their offspring. Our celebrated "mobile society" has stretched family ties to all corners of the country, even the globe. How can we care for those closest to us in blood relation if we are hundreds of miles or more apart? Here is where we could stand an education from Blacks (African Americans, or your preferred form of address) and Native Americans (Indigenous Peoples, or your preferred form of address). Those cultures are, traditionally, far healthier in many ways for having multiple generations under one roof, or at least next door or in the same neighborhood. Think of what our children are missing today in wisdom, love, compassion, and entertaining stories because grandma and grandpa live on the opposite coast.

There is thus nothing friendly about aging the way our profit-driven society now thinks and acts. We deprive you of proximity to your children and grandchildren as they go forth to prosper in the global marketplace. We divorce you from your savings, your ability to make your own decisions, and your dignity. You are nothing if not incontinent, impotent, or in need of personal locomotive devices, hearing aids, or new joints. Oh, and Medicare may or may not be there to help should you actually need one of the aforementioned products. After all, Medicare is just another "entitlement," you know.

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