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August 15, 2012

Column #1,616

What Do Seniors Owe the Young?

By Mike McManus

            What is the obligation of America’s seniors to the younger generation?  In my view, as a Medicare and Social Security recipient, I believe we owe it to the young to give them an even better opportunity than we were given. 

In fact, we are robbing them of their future. 

            There is increasing evidence that the “Millennials” or Generation Y, Americans who are under age 35, are “the screwed generation,” as Newsweek asserts in its July 23 cover story. Consider these facts Newsweek offers:

·         No generation has suffered more from the Great Recession.  Median net worth of those under 35 fell 37%, according to Census, while those of my generation took only a 13% hit.


·         The median net worth of my generation is $171,000, 42% more than in 1984, while Generation Y is only $3,662, down 68% in those years.


·         Since 2008 the percentage of those under 25 who are in the workforce has dropped 13% while those over 55 who are working has risen 8%.  We can’t afford to retire, which means fewer jobs are available to the young.


·         Unable to find work, many Millennials have gotten more education, and now owe $27,000 each in tuition debt, or a stunning $1 trillion.


·         Over 43% of recent college grads are working in jobs that don’t require a college education.  And a third of Generation Y have deferred marriage and moved back home.

Of far greater long-term concern is that the U.S. Government has imposed $5 trillion of new debt on the young in just the last three years.   This is disturbingly unfair.  And the situation is growing worse. If Obama’s view prevails, Washington will spend $1 trillion on welfare programs in 2014, and $1.6 trillion by 2022.

Taxes are collecting only 58% of what government is spending on today’s generation.  So 42 cents is borrowed, with the debt piling especially high on Generation Y, who will pay the interest on today’s profligacy for the rest of their lives along with their children and grandchildren. Yet almost half of today’s workers pay no income tax.

This is profoundly immoral.   It must stop.

As Baby Boomers retire, tens of millions of additional people will have their hands out for Social Security and Medicare – which, if not reversed, will bankrupt the country.

The only hope I see is that Mitt Romney has chosen Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate.  While his House-passed Medicare plan would not change benefits for the currently retired or those over age 55, it would alter the system for later retirees who would get a voucher to apply toward buying private insurance, ending Medicare’s current open-ended entitlement.

Democrats are already running ads criticizing House Republicans who voted for Ryan’s plan “to end Medicare as we know it, forcing seniors to pay more,” as one opponent put it.

In addition, Ryan also would gradually raise the age to receive Medicare from 65 to 67. Medicaid, which pays for health care for the poor, would be cut more severely.

These steps seem reasonable.  We also should consider raising the age at which Social Security is given.  Americans are living longer lives, and it is reasonable to ask Seniors to bear a larger share of the costs, rather than impose them on our children and grandchildren.

Oddly, Romney/Ryan want to increase military spending, when we are already spending $711 billion a year.  China only spends $143 billion; Russia, $72 billion; Britain and France about $63 billion each; Japan, $59 billion, Saudi Arabia, $48 billion and India, $47 billion.  America could cut military spending by a fifth and still be more than all seven of the next largest countries combined! 

Who are we arming to fight?

However, it is utterly unrealistic to expect the deficit to be brought into balance by only cutting spending.  Federal revenues are at an historic low, as a percentage of the Gross National Product.

I agree more with Obama than Romney/Ryan on the need for the affluent to pay higher taxes. On the other hand, the top 1% of earners pay 38% of federal income taxes and the top 10% pay 71%.  However, why should owners of second homes get a mortgage tax deduction? And why shouldn’t two-thirds of Americans pay some income tax, rather than only half of them?

The good news is that Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan will open the door for a serious debate on how to reduce the federal deficit.

It’s about time.

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