Saturday, July 16, 2016
Old Age in America
I don't write about my work on the blog, but I am going to write about my work. I work on legal issues in aging.
I have spent a bit of time in the past couple of weeks editing articles written by my summer graduate student interns. The students come to us with little knowledge of aging issues - making us responsible for most of what they know about the issue. The thing that struck me from the writing, was what a negative picture we paint of aging. There is much more to growing older, than disease, abuse, and poverty.
As a society we fight against illness and view death as failure. We turn the lives of older adults into a continuous series of medical appointments, tests and treatments fighting valiantly to increase life expectancy. Sadly I fear we focus on the number of years in a life, and overlook the life in those years. You can't cure old age and live forever, we can work to help everyone live a comfortable and happy life.
Predators, usually family members, abuse, neglect and steal from persons who are perceived as being vulnerable, especially if the victim is dependent on the perpetrator. 90% of older adults will never experience abuse. We paint a picture that every older person is constantly at risk, and this is not true. Yes, abuse is a scourge, it is a crime, it is a social issue and a family issue - but it is not a part of the daily live of the majority of adults as they age. The vast majority of us, age, defend ourselves, and live an abuse free life. The way to stop abuse is not by scaring everyone into being afraid of the world.
The stock brokers set standards for retirement savings that when achieved allow retirees to live in luxury, and make the stock brokers wealthy. The reality is that only about 20% of retirees have that kind of money. Social Security and retirement accounts replace about 40% of earnings for the average retiree. Only about 25% of American workers are covered by a traditional pension that provides a guaranteed income for life (down from over 50% 40 years ago when the 401k starting making stock brokers wealthy.) So the majority of retirees are going to live on a lot less income than they enjoyed when working. But this does not mean they don't live well. Most learn to live well, with less income. They reexamine life's wants and needs.
Yes there is grinding poverty among some seniors, and the cost of long term nursing home care will bankrupt the average couple in less than two years, but the numbers there are the minority, not the norm.
We focus so much on the bad things that happen to a minority of older adults, that it becomes easy to overlook the fact that the majority live a good life.