Who’s going to support Granny when she can’t support herself?”

“Women: can’t live with ‘em, can’t kill ‘em.” Men too:  “Can’t live with ‘em, can’t shoot ‘em.” Same goes for old people, as Susan Jacoby writes in her jeremiad about old age in America, Never Say Die:  “If we are not going to kill Granny, we are going to have to support Granny.”

” I have some bones to pick with Jacoby, but she completely nails the grim economic prospects of the baby boom, and the implications.   Some excerpts:

• “The stereotype of the greedy geezer is based, in large measure, on the oft-repeated statistic that Americans over sixty-five own 75 percent of all assets. But this is a misleading figure, because the largest proportion of assets is owned by a very small proportion of the elderly. Nearly half of Americans over sixty-five receive no income at all from assets. Of individuals who do derive income from assets (such as interests on savings and dividends from stocks), half receive less than $2,000.”    
— note that this stereotype hurts older women in particular, many of whom end up in poverty for the first time in their lives. Women over 85 make up at the bottom of the economic ladder.

• “Even if younger Americans now draw appropriate lessons from their parents’ financial mistakes, the numbers do not add up to a decent standard of living in retirement if the proportion of the old old continues to increase dramatically.”

• “The growing need for employment among those only five to ten years older than the boomers, and the extra difficulties that the old encounter when they try to remain in the job market, do not bode well for the future of a more heavily indebted boomer generation.”

• “There is rarely any acknowledgment of the fact that many Americans do not make enough money to save money.”

• “A decent life for the old old cannot, in most cases, be financed by individuals.”

• And, conclusively: “The anger over a rise in the Medicare payroll tax (but only for Americans making over $200,000 a year) to pay for subsidies for those who cannot afford insurance is one small part of the larger controversy about whether medical care really is a human right that any modern society ought to guarantee. The myth of young old age, which simultaneously overestimates the earning potential and underestimates the needs of the dependent old old, also poses a major impediment to any serious, reality-based discussion of social justice for both old and young. Healthy old old age is costly, and unhealthy old old age is even costlier. If, as a society, we see longevity as a good thing, then we’re going to have to pay for it.”

Jacoby sees longevity as basically wretched, but her progressive politics compel her to make this critical argument. How ironic that an outcry about “death panels” (conversations about end-of-life-care) was central to the opposition to Obamacare. If conservatives are so worried about defenseless Grannies, why not step up with the help she’s likely to need?

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