Saturday, September 7, 2013

An Economic Gamble Worth Taking

According to a 2012 study by economics professors at MIT, Dartmouth and Harvard: Nearly 46 percent of Americans die with virtually no financial assets. In fact, 19 percent of Americans die with "zero" financial assets. And many of these people with modest assets rely almost entirely on Social Security benefits to survive.

People with zero financial assets and an annuity income of less than $30,000 were in the bottom health quartile before they died. 50 percent of the labor force earns $27,000 a year or LESS --- and are in this quartile.

The study also noted that such things as mortgage tax breaks and other assistance for asset-building predominantly benefit middle- and upper-income American households.

According to the study, there may be a notable connection between health and wealth, as less healthy seniors have significantly lower assets than healthier ones --- and one reason why the rich live longer. Poorer Americans die younger, in part because they cannot pay for medical emergencies. And before death, poorer Americans' quality of life is significantly lower than the quality of life of their richer counterparts.

A 2008 study by the Congressional Budget Office found that the life expectancy gap between the rich and poor in the United States has been growing since the 1980s.

And when it comes to anxiety and stress, people with more money have more methods for coping. Another study found that stressed-out rich people live longer than the stressed-out poor people --- and the findings showed that the combination of both poverty and stress "is a bomb".

An alarming number of Americans may have to work until they die. According to a study issued by LIMRA (a financial services trade association) one in two Americans are not saving at all for retirement. Forty-three percent of all American households are one crisis away from poverty --- meaning saving for retirement is all but impossible.

Meanwhile, retiree health care costs have continued to rise. As seniors face higher living costs and low bank balances, more and more older Americans are finding themselves in tough financial positions. More than nine million senior citizens cannot pay their bills, and 60 percent of older women cannot afford basic expenses.

Republicans and corporate Democrats have been advocating cuts in Social Security, but Social Security is the most effective anti-poverty program in our nation's history and the most powerful guarantee of security for hardworking Americans throughout the country.

We, as a nation, have the resources for expanding and strengthening Social Security --- but Republicans and corporate Democrats have refused to do so, despite what the voters want (Congress has refused many other changes that the voters have demanded --- including reforming the tax code and the banks.)

Polling has shown that the vast majority of Americans believe we should be expanding Social Security benefits, and that the wealthy should contribute more in order to do so. From the Economic Policy Institute:

[The National Academy of Social Insurance] released the results of a poll showing strong support for Social Security by the American people, a consensus that benefits are inadequate, and a willingness to pay higher taxes to strengthen the program...almost all agree we should “scrap the cap” on taxable earnings.

That's exactly one of the things that Senators Tom Harkin and Mark Begich have proposed with the Strengthening Social Security Act of 2013. Senator Tom Harkin renewed his push for expanding Social Security as part of a comprehensive reform of our retirement system, saying this would be his top priority before he retires in 2014. And it looks like the movement to expand Social Security is picking up steam.

This act would boost Social Security for most Americans by around $800 per year, extend the life of the Social Security trust fund, and close the loophole that keeps millionaires and billionaires from paying the same Social Security tax rate as the rest of us.

Soon Congress will be back from another one of their many paid vacations, and the budget debate will begin again. We need to make sure that expanding and protecting Social Security benefits is at the forefront of the debate --- and that they are not cut, but expanded (Please sign the petition)

If corporate America refuses to hire American citizens in the U.S. (and pay them living wages) we should at least tax the benefactors of these corporate polices so that at the very least, when Americans get old, they can continue to live a little while longer after they're no longer wanted or needed in the domestic labor force.

The pro-corporate media outlets will use the same old scare tactic that "scrapping the cap" for Social Security on multi-billionaires (and raising the minimum wage) will jeopardize jobs. They will always say that ANYTHING that benefits average American workers will jeopardize jobs. All the pro-corporate politicians have been using "jobs" as "hostages" for decades, screwing over average working Americans for an entire generation.

Corporate America has forced a vast proportion of the population to rely on food stamps as wage subsidies. We only hear about "waste fraud and abuse" when it's food stamps for 47 million poor Americans, but in a report released this week, the USDA inspector general said the agency spent millions on undue payouts through the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation, while issuing no major overpayments for the SNAP program. So who's really "gaming the system"?

Things could hardly be worse than they are today. Wealth inequality in 2013 is as bad today as it was during the days of the robber barons and the Gilded Age --- so it's long past the time that we expand Social Security and raise the minimum wage --- and let the chips fall where they may. That's a gamble that most Americans are now willing to take.

As Bob Dylan had once said, "When you ain't got nothing, you got nothing to lose." It's no wonder that fast-food and retail workers have been striking all across America. They're only asking for a "living wage" so that they can "live" --- not because they prefer to live on the government dole.

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