Fox News, the Tea Party and other right-wingers are obsessed with the fear that undeserving moochers are conniving to steal their hard-earned money. There is another, even more bizarre front in conservatives’ battle to protect the wealthy: attacks on the “deserving” poor.
It’s possible that they aren’t trying to be mean. Conservatives seem to honestly believe that everyone who works hard gets rich, and anyone who isn’t rich isn’t working hard enough. Some of them exhibit no awareness of the growing number of Americans who work but remain poor. Those rich, hard-working capitalists, like Wal-Mart’s Waltons (who, incidentally, didn’t lift a finger to inherit their billions), pay their employees so little that they can’t get by, much less get ahead.
It is mathematically impossible to get rich working a minimum-wage job, and you can forget about even surviving in old age. Since a minimum-wage worker with two children can’t even afford rent, there is no way she can put aside money for retirement.
We have seen what happens when we abandon elderly people who worked hard their whole lives but can’t physically do it anymore. The time was that senior citizens were more likely to be poor than any other Americans. The poverty rate among seniors plunged thanks to Social Security, and they are now guaranteed at least some medical treatment through Medicare. Further evidence that Social Security isn’t a windfall for the indolent: the amount of each recipient’s benefits depends on how much she earned when she was working and how long she worked for. The more she got paid when she was employed, the more she’ll get paid after retirement. What more could Ditto Heads ask for?
It seems eminently fair to me for our country to support people who contributed to society throughout their productive years with their work and their tax payments.
The right wing disagrees, which is one reason they have it in for Social Security. They also insist that cuts to entitlement programs are vital to a healthy economy. That means cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits, ergo more poor senior citizens, and in particular more poor women of color. “Women live longer than men, which means they are more likely to outlive their retirement savings. In addition, women are less likely to receive a pension. And if they do receive a pension, it’s less than what men receive,” according to Dan Adcock, policy director of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.
Add to that the fact that women of color earn less than white men, men of color and white women, and you have a recipe for desperate poverty.
With conservatives taking aim at Social Security, it would be in the natural order of things for President Obama to protect the benefit program. The man was a community organizer, after all. He is supposed to know what things are really like for the regular folk.
If he ever did know, he has forgotten. He too is calling for lower Social Security benefits, though he would get it done more sneakily, through something called the chained CPI. CPI stands for consumer price index, which tracks the rise and fall of the prices for stuff people buy, like food. When Social Security benefit amounts are adjusted for changes in the cost of living, experts rely on the CPI to figure out how large the adjustment needs to be.
The CPI assumes that people will continue buying the same things even if their prices rise. The chained CPI assumes instead that when a product gets more expensive, people will abandon it in favor of a cheaper substitute. This substitution seems to be unique to meat-eaters judging by the examples I found: if the price of beef rises, people will switch to buying chicken; if the price of hamburger rises, people will switch to steak; and if the price of canned salmon rises, people will switch to canned tuna. Presumably this process carries right on until you have little old ladies comparing prices to find the cheapest can of cat food for their dinner.
That is where Obama is headed. He would permit cost of living increases to Social Security benefits only to reflect increases in the prices of the cheapest products and services.
If no changes are made to the current Social Security benefit structure, the majority of Americans will finish out their lives in poverty, according to Steven Rosenfeld at AlterNet. We need to increase Social Security payments just to keep our senior citizens out of poverty. Yet politicians on both sides of the aisle are gearing up to cut payments.
This isn’t about whether people deserve charity. This is about stiffing people who paid into the Social Security coffers throughout their own working lives to support the generations that came before.
Our government seems to have no qualms about screwing our children out of a livable planet so we can keep guzzling fuel and polluting, and screwing our grandparents out of a decent, dignified, adequately-fed retirement for — I don’t know, to reduce some red numbers on a spreadsheet? To hang onto their own elected offices? The cohort that holds our country’s reins isn’t just the Me Generation — it’s the Screw You Generation.
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