Why Grandparents Should Work To Save Safety Net Programs

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As grandparents, we must think about our grandchildren and the legacy we are leaving them. If Medicare and Social Security are to continue providing safety nets we need to take part in that discussion. 

By Sondra L. Shapiro

After I delivered a eulogy for my husband’s 93-year-old grandmother, a woman I greatly admired, the rabbi approached me to say he found it refreshing that a person my age would choose an older person as a role model. That was 23 years ago, and I was 42.

Though I quickly responded that most of my heroes are older people, I later realized the accuracy of the rabbi’s observation.

In our culture we frequently underestimate the contributions and worth of elders. If we did a little soul searching, we baby boomers would realize there is so much we have learned from them. Now, many of us are grandparents and with the title comes responsibility to leave a better world for our grandchildren.

We may not always act the way our parents did, but lots of their admirable qualities are ingrained in us. This is evident in the way many of us raised our children while taking care of ailing parents, or in the love and care we provide to a spouse or friend in need of care. It is apparent in the way many of us share a special bond with a grandchild.

The sense of duty and love is a value that is handed down from our parents who were influenced by the Depression. That older generation learned to cherish the closeness of family, friends and community over material gains.

Baby boomers were exposed to and shaped by many positive influences. Unlike our parents, who often spent their childhood working to help support the family, we were raised during a period of prosperity.

As products of the “Pepsi Generation,” we think and act younger than our parents did at our age. That belief has helped to slow down many of the traditional signs of aging.

We don’t buy into the traditional concept that with old age comes infirmity. We are a generation that believes in unlimited possibilities.

These numbers show Congress must act sooner, rather than its usual later to fix these program.

Yet, there is still more we can learn from our elders. We can ensure the world is truly a better place for our grandchildren.

Our parents enjoyed a paternal form of government that created Social Security and the Great Society programs that provide a financial lifeline for older Americans. As voters and advocates they exhibited the influence of that environment by unselfishly working to preserve entitlements like Social Security and Medicare for their children and grandchildren.

We baby boomers have lately embraced the idea that less government is better — a philosophy we carried to the polls during the last election. While the promotion of self-sufficiency is admirable, government entitlements warrant preservation since they provide a financial safety net. I’m not sure many of us truly understood how our actions could lead to the dismantling of entitlements.

A new report from government overseers for social safety net programs designed to keep older Americans from poverty is sobering. Social Security would become insolvent in 2035, one year later than previously estimated. Medicare is pointed toward insolvency by 2026. These numbers show Congress must act sooner, rather than its usual later to fix these programs. “Taking action sooner rather than later will permit consideration of a broader range of solutions and provide more time to phase in changes so that the public has adequate time to prepare,” the government Trustees wrote.

Certainly the Republican-backed tax reform has not helped, but the inability for Democrats and Republicans to come together to find solutions is historic. Yet, simple tinkering would add life to these programs.

Why not consider raising the retirement age for collecting Social Security faster.

Ratchet up the age for collecting benefits early, since it has not increased at all.

Or lift the cap on how much income is subjected to the Social Security tax. It seems illogical that a person making more than the cap pays no more in taxes.

We must think about our grandchildren and the legacy we are leaving them. If Medicare and Social Security are to continue providing safety nets we need to take part in that discussion.

When you consider Social Security has cut the poverty level in half among retirees since FDR signed the act in 1935, the future of  our grandchildren depends on its solvency. A bit of tinkering could solve its problems long term. There is no need to change the basic structure. Same goes for Medicare.

When we were young, everyone was talking about the “generation gap.” We believed our parents just didn’t understand us. As parents and grandparents, we boomers are embracing youth-oriented trends in music, fashion and lifestyle. But, we need to do more than relate to the younger generation — We must be caretakers by working to ensure that Social Security and Medicare are there for them. It’s the best legacy we can leave.

Sondra L. Shapiro is the publisher and founder of Thefiftypluslife.com. Follow her on Twitter @Shapiro50plus.

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