Thursday, May 26, 2011

Generations United's Response to Samuelson's "Affluent Elderly"

In a recent edition of the Washington Post, Robert J. Samuelson launched yet another broadside against Social Security and Medicare and the supposedly “well-off” elderly population in America [“The affluent elderly, Opinions, May 16”]. Generations United’s Program Committee took exception to Samuelson’s article and wrote a Letter to the Editor rebutting Samuelson’s argument.

While the Post did not publish the letter, we wanted to share the gist of it with you:
Samuelson’s argument is convincing—if you take his statistics on face value. But you shouldn’t.
Let’s begin with how Mr. Samuelson wrongly characterizes these important programs. First, and most unfortunately, he implies that Social Security and Medicare are retirement programs and that only elderly Americans receive “benefits.” Not true. These programs provide critical financial support to individuals with disabilities and their families, children whose parents have died, and families headed by grandparents or other relatives.
In fact, Social Security pays more benefits to children than any other federal program. Today, 6.5 million children receive part of their family income from Social Security.
Samuelson also claims that the median net worth (assets minus debts) of 65-plus households is twice the amount for households aged 45 to 54. What he fails to note, however, is that much of our elderly’s net worth is tied up in their homes. Homes which are difficult to sell even in the best of times, often because of the updates and maintenance required. You can’t modernize homes with a limited income. Nor can you eat roof shingles or drywall. It takes liquid assets to buy groceries.
But Samuelson’s most egregious misstep is that he advances his argument by pitting old against young. Such a tactic weakens the social fabric. A nation is like a family: we should and must work together for the common good.
We were disappointed in not getting our letter published. At the same time, we were heartened that the Post did choose to publish an opinion submitted by John Rother, Executive Vice President of AARP and a member of the Generations United Board of Directors. We encourage you to read Rother’s thoughtful letter, which appeared in the Post’s May 19th edition.

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