The 'Other America' May Be Coming Back
Once upon a time, in a land that stretched from one great sea to another, half the elderly were poor. When their work life was done, they retreated into their rented room or their trailer, or their room at their children's home, or even the county poorhouse. Their rulers looked at their plight and concluded that, "at least one-half of the aged -- approximately eight million people -- cannot afford today decent housing, proper nutrition, adequate medical care . . . or necessary recreation."Go read the rest.
And the name of this nation, and the unimaginably distant time when half the elderly lived this way? The United States of America in the year 1960.
We have come so far in such a short time that's it's hard for people who aren't seniors to imagine an America in which old age was all but synonymous with desperation. In 2003 just 10.2 percent of Americans aged 65 or older lived in poverty -- a figure two points lower than the national poverty rate of 12.4 percent. Once the age group with the highest rate of poverty, seniors have become the age group with the lowest rate.
There's no great mystery to unravel here. Above all, what changed the lives of America's senior citizens were the significant increases in Social Security benefits enacted in the 1960s and '70s, and the indexing of those benefits to average wage growth. But since the Bush administration is reportedly soon to propose ending that indexing, and replacing it with a different formula that would greatly reduce benefits, it's worth taking a moment to look back at senior poverty as it existed in the year of John F. Kennedy's election as president.
This is why I see Soc Security as sacred.