After watching endless hours of town halls on C-SPAN and observing the unabashed selfishness and irresponsibility among some of my parents' generation, (do I dare say this?) I am starting to get upset.
I’ve been paying into Medicare ever since I was 15, which was in 1965. That means I have been paying into Medicare as long as it's been possible to have paid into it. I remember my parents talking about the fact that they would qualify for Medicare even though they were just starting to pay in. My mother did not work outside the home. This was common then, at least among their class of professionals in the small town where I grew up, just east of Michele Bachmann's district.
My parents were among the crowd who traveled the country in their campers in the eighties and nineties with bumper stickers that said, “We are spending our children’s inheritance.” That was funny, back then.
I have seen at some of the town halls covered on C-SPAN [e.g. 1,2,3] many of the meanest emotions known to mankind: anger, suspicion, envy, selfishness and, yes, cruelty. What has happened to some of these people, so often members of the Greatest Generation who I have always admired? Perhaps some of this acting out is due to the challenges of aging, but sometimes I think something else is involved.
I think about what my parents went through. My father was "saved by the Bomb" which was dropped as he sailed to Japan near the end of World War II. After completing his service he attended college and dental school on the GI bill, married my mother and moved home to Minnesota to start his practice.
Twice, during the dotcom bust and after the debacle last fall, my parents lost serious amounts of money in the stock market. Prior to the dotcom bust my father was optimistic about his financial situation. He died in June, and we soon found out there was no money other than Social Security for my Mom once she uses up whatever equity is left in their house which has eight (8) home equity loans filed against it.
My mother decided to immediately sell the house and move into a 3-bedroom condo with a two car garage, where she plans to eat in the restaurants in the complex, which includes golfing, swimming and shops. My brother says she can expect income from the sale of the house to last for no more than two years. That's if the housing market improves. My mother must know that this situation in unsustainable, but it is what she has decided to do, period.
I don’t know what my mother is thinking, only maybe that people who know they have a good thing going may sense that it is not such a good idea to admit it, even to themselves. Still, I don’t know what she will do when her “two years” run out. I think she should do now what we are doing. We also lost money in the market. Plus our house was badly damaged in a flood three years ago. We’ve had to make major adjustments to our lifestyle and, more importantly, to our expectations. Mom would be welcome to move in with us, or others in our extended family, but I realize now that she does not want anything to change for her and wants to go on living the life she has lived, regardless of what has happened to our country and what is happening to our planet. Her parents both lived well into their nineties and her grandmother was almost 100. So I expect this drama to continue.
Think about it. Not only do subsequent generations have to pay a disproportionate contribution to Medicare and Social Security, but with home equity loans sustaining our parents, the tradition of leaving something for one's children is also disappearing for all but that 0.01% of income earners, the super-rich. Now, with the newest Wall Street 'scam' or "Big Idea," with banks buying up and bundling life insurance policies after a cash payment to grandma, life insurance as another source of wealth that used to benefit the next generation is increasingly on the chopping block, with cash benefits being used to supplement the GG's nest eggs or help pay their medical bills (that darned health care thing, again!)
Hmmmm, are we being fleeced? Not at all; of course not; these are our parents and we love them. But we will, as has been predicted, be the first generation since the 1930s to live at a standard of living below that of our parents.
My husband and I still have three kids to put through college and working beyond 65 now looks inescapable. Or we can help my mother live the life she feels entitled to. I wonder when if ever she will wake up to see what's happening to the world.
At least my mother does not go to town hall meetings and cry out hysterically that she is concerned about her “children and grandchildren.” No one who understands the trajectory of health care costs in this country can make such a statement seriously. The only way to make sure that the health care benefits available to today’s seniors survive intact for the next generation, or the next, is to reform health care now using new science and transformative ideas. That way the actual work of the "American Dream" -- of finding creative and fresh new ways of doing things better and less expensively at the same time -- has at least a snowflake's chance in hell to kick in.