Social Security Is Vital for Whole Families, Not Just Elders

Article excerpt

When trying to cut programs that benefit all generations, politicians often evoke the next generation, saying cuts are needed so our young are not hampered with overwhelming debt. But the decision not to invest in today's youth foretells of a generation ill-prepared to innovate and outperform in a competitive global arena.

A 2010 poll by Harris Interactive, commissioned by Generations United, found the majority of Americans don't believe investments in one generation deprive another. Rather, they believe such investments help us all. The poll also found Americans believe politicians unfairly pit one generation against another, and many people don't have opportunities to interact with other generations (gu.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=3eJS8M xzD9Q%3databid=157amid=606). Yet interaction between generations is essential to protect the commitment each generation has to another.

It's Not a Fight; It's a Family

Once, while traveling in Cambodia, I visited a temple and was greeted by two smiling temple keepers. They were both barely 5 feet tall, with few teeth, but many laugh lines. When our tour guide cautioned me not to beat a sacred drum, one of the temple keepers came over, grabbed a padded stick and banged away. We laughed while the guide shrugged. It never occurred to me that the two temple keepers, ages 89 and 91, were working there because that was their only road to income security in old age. Of the three avenues available- family support, temple-keeping or begging on the streettaking care of the temple was the most viable option.

In America, there is no temple-keeping equivalent for retirement. Through Social Security benefits and other social insurance programs, we have lowered the poverty rate among older adults to about half that of our nation's children. Yet what should be heralded as a success is often cast as an injustice between generations. Rather than taking a more expansive view of how we can lower the poverty rate for children, some falsely believe if benefits are cut for elders, the freed funds will be directed to children. It doesn't work that way.

We must find new ways to lower the overall poverty rate, while upholding progress we've made with elders. Our current age-segregated policymaking results in advocates battling each other over crumbs. Older and younger would be better served if policymakers recognized how intertwined the generations are and how they can be engaged as resources for each other.

Fortunately, as those Harris poll results indicate, most Americans understand that it's not a fight; it's a family. They recognize that social supports designed to help keep one family member safe often benefit all. …