In an editorial Monday morning, the New York Times told a tale of woe about growing poverty among senior citizens in America:
An additional 135,000 older women became extremely poor in 2012, raising the extreme-poverty rate in that group to 3.1 percent, And 100,000 older men were extremely poor in 2012, raising the extreme-poverty rate in that group to 2.3 percent In all, nearly 1.2 million people age 65 and up were classified as extremely poor in 2012.
First, the editorial opposes Social Security reform:
But it would be devastating if recent increases became a growing trend. For now, the best policy response is to do no harm. For example, budget proposals to cut Social Security’s cost-of-living benefit, ill-advised in any case, would be especially unwise and untimely.
This policy position intends to help current seniors at the expense of those to come. By not changing Social Security’s benefits, Congress would be approving of more poverty or higher taxes for the next generation of senior citizens. They will begin retiring about 20 years from now, when Social Security’s Trust Fund is expected to be empty.
This block quote also includes a misnomer – cost-of-living adjustments wouldn’t change under most policies for five to 10 years, which means many current seniors would not be affected in the first place.
The editorial also ignored how overall, seniors have 47 times the net worth of young Americans. From CNN in 2011:
In 1984, households headed by people age 65 and older were worth just 10 times the median net worth of households headed by people 35 and younger.
But now that gap has widened to 47-to-one, marking the largest wealth gap ever recorded between the two age groups.
Again, reforming Social Security now will help the next generation of senior citizens live better. The CNN report proves taking a little from Social Security now or in the near future won’t be devastating to current seniors’ asset holdings.
Second, if the editorial page staff of the NYT wants to help seniors, it should retract its support of Obamacare. This is a law that will increase the number of people on Medicaid while reducing Medicare reimbursements to medical practitioners. This will create a doctor shortage, and cause seniors a disproportionate deal of harm.
Finally, the report cited in the editorial fails to include the monetary benefits of many federal programs in its definition of income. These programs include Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP, tax benefits, and housing subsidies. Seniors who are in “extreme poverty” are eligible for these benefits, and are getting health care, housing, and food paid for by the government – in other words, taxpayers pick up the tab for their basic costs of living. This is well over $700 billion in annual federal and state spending, much of which (Medicare) goes exclusively to senior citizens.
Helping the poor is a healthy part of American culture, but the editorial staff at the Times needs to look at the facts surrounding its ideological positions. Supporting Obamacare, opposing Social Security reform, and dismissing how poverty and wealth are distributed in America are inconsistent with the stated goal of the editorial – helping poor seniors – and provide an incomplete picture to readers.