Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

America's National Insecurity Political Elites Don't Know How Americans Live

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

America's National Insecurity Political Elites Don't Know How Americans Live

Article excerpt

America remains, despite the damage inflicted by the Great Recession, a very rich country. But many Americans are economically insecure, with little protection from life's risks. They frequently experience financial hardship; many don't expect to be able to retire or, if they do, retire with little to live on besides Social Security.

But all too many affluent Americans - in particular, members of our political elite - seem to have no sense of how the other half lives. Which is why a new study by the Federal Reserve should be required reading inside the Beltway.

First, though, let me say that I am not talking about callous obliviousness only with respect to right-wing contempt for the poor - even though, according to the Pew Research Center, more than three- quarters of conservatives believe that the poor "have it easy" thanks to government benefits. Only one in 7 believe the poor "have hard lives."

And this attitude translates into policy. What we learn from the refusal of Republican-controlled states to expand Medicaid at federal expense is that punishing the poor has become a goal in itself, one worth pursuing even if it hurts state budgets.

But what's really striking is the disconnect between centrist conventional wisdom and the realities of life for much of the nation.

Take Social Security. For decades, a declared willingness to cut Social Security benefits, especially by raising the retirement age, has been almost a required position - a badge of seriousness - for politicians and pundits who want to sound wise and responsible. After all, people are living longer, so shouldn't they work longer, too? And isn't Social Security an old-fashioned system, out of touch with modern economic realities?

Meanwhile, the reality is that living longer in our ever-more- unequal society is a class thing: life expectancy at age 65 has risen a lot among the affluent, but hardly at all in the bottom half of the wage distribution - that is, among those who need Social Security most. And while the retirement system F.D.R. introduced may look old-fashioned to affluent professionals, it is literally a lifeline for many of our fellow citizens. …

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