Academic journal article Social Work


Academic journal article Social Work


Article excerpt

Economic Well-Being of Children and Elderly People

Since the preparation of Dr. Martha Ozawa's important article ("The Economic Well-Being of Elderly People and Children in a Changing Society," January 1999, pp. 9-19) dealing with the inequality of social provision for children in U.S. social policy, some progress has been made. Congress has enacted an increase of $400 per child in income tax exemptions and Medicaid eligibility has been broadened to include more children.

Clearly, progress has been insufficient and the inequality of social provision that penalizes children must continue to be addressed. However, I believe both the title of the article and its conclusions may give rise to the unintended inference that social provision for elderly people has been ensured. As the article itself points out, the "economic well-being of elderly people" is not distributed uniformly. A major concern that has not been adequately addressed in social policy lies in the consequences of increasing longevity and the mounting expenses in the later years to safeguard health and quality of life.

Dr. Ozawa relegates these and other related concerns to the category of "sectorial politics." She asks elderly people to ignore the real dangers emanating from threats to reduce Medicare benefits, to increase taxes on social security payments, and to decrease access to home health care. She is asking the reader to enter into an "Alice in Wonderland" dimension of politics.

We need to think of ways to achieve a positive sum outcome to social policy conflicts that can benefit both children and elderly people. For instance, enactment of national health insurance would mean that senior citizens would not be dropped by HMOs, and children who now are uninsured would have health protection. In this way, health care premiums for the entire population would be reduced, because there would be no need to compensate for the large numbers of uninsured people and no need to provide for profit taking. Grandparents taking care of their grandchildren should have broader tax write-offs to help them. EITC benefits should be made more ample at the same time that tax penalties that prevent senior citizens from working and receiving social security payments are removed. This will enable more elderly people to be self-supporting and less of a present and potential burden to their children and grandchildren. Federal aid for the building and repair of school buildings would mean lower property taxes a nd greater likelihood of approval of local school budgets.

Coalitions can proceed on such a basis. They cannot proceed on the untoward assumption that the major needs of elderly people have been addressed adequately and now it is time for the needs of children to receive the lion's share of attention. Anyone who has experienced the tragic absence of social supports in dealing with the awful progression of Alzheimer's disease in a family member knows better.

Louis Levitt

Yeshiva University

New York City

Response to Levitt

I greatly appreciate the constructive input from Professor Louis Levitt of Yeshiva University regarding the need to channel more resources to children. The article "The Economic Well-Being of Elderly People and Children in a Changing Society" (January 1999, pp. 9-19) was not intended to project a zero-sum game. Far from it. As I discussed elsewhere (Ozawa, 1995), the whole argument should be made taking a dynamic perspective--that is, the well-being of children is related directly to the well-being of elderly people. This is so because unless we invest in children, it will be impossible to support elderly people through social security, whether we keep the current social security system or privatize it. The feasibility of supporting the growing population of elderly people will depend squarely on whether we have healthy economic growth, which must be achieved by the proportionately shrinking population of workers. …

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