In March 1933, the United States stood on the brink of ruin. Twenty-five percent of the population was unemployed; many people had not worked for several years. The situation was even worse in cities with major industries, where unemployment surpassed the national average.
Yet the real worry of the era cannot be captured by statistics alone.
Last week, Christian social justice activist Ron Sider declared that he is quitting AARP because it's opposing changes to Social Security and Medicare that he finds reasonable: proposals that would ask more from wealthier seniors.
There are alotofideas out there for shoring up Medicare and Social Security, ideas that should be given serious consideration. And I agree with Sider on several points.
Politicians in Washington invariably use the term “entitlements” to refer to programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. On the face of it, it’s a neutral term: citizens are entitled to certain benefits if they fit a certain category of need, hence the benefits might reasonably be called “entitlements.”
Yet the word carries ideological freight—an implication that people are lazy or self-indulgent to expect these things.
One of the greatest fruits of high productivity and rising incomes in a country like the U.S. is the financial ability people have to retire. This possibility was beyond the imagination of pre–World War II workers and is still far beyond the expectations of most people living in Third World countries.
If the staff at the Christian Century is any indication, most younger Americans don’t expect much from Social Security. When the subject came up at lunch, all of the 20- and 30-somethings said they assume that they will have to pay into the system, but that the benefits won’t be there for them when they retire.
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