It is election season, as if you hadn't noticed, and that means a lot of ads, speeches, and 30-second soundbites. But are we getting all the information we need from the candidates on the issues? I'm guessing most of us might respond "no." There are some big issues that have been discussed behind closed doors in Washington that haven't been discussed in the last two presidential debates: The future of Social Security and Medicare.
I know, why should we care? We're too young, right? Wrong. Our generation may want to pay attention to these issues--we are saving less for our retirement, likely won't get a pension through our future employers, and like our parents, could see our 401k's and retirement savings eroded as we approach or think about retirement.
I have never given much thought to Medicare and Social Security--that is, before I began my internship at AARP. Why should I? I'm a 23-year-old woman who is a little over halfway done with her graduate school education at Columbia University. I have not begun my career yet, much less reached retirement. And (knock on wood), am in fairly good health.
Now I give the issues a lot of thought. I know the important role Medicare and Social Security play in the lives of all Americans. 76% of low-and-middle-income class seniors relied on Social Security as their individual income and 32%of New Yorkers (809,919 people) would have fallen into poverty without Social Security in 2011. Meanwhile, nearly 96% of older New York seniors, or 2,506,342, were enrolled in and relied on Medicare in 2011. It's not just your parents and grandparents who have earned a say in the future of these programs, you have too. AARP has launched You've Earned A Say to give people of all generations a say in the debate--take the time to learn the facts and make your voice heard at www.earnedasay.org.
What exactly is the problem with Medicare and Social Security? Current projections say Medicare will be unable to cover its bills by 2029, due to the increased demand for its services as the 78 million Baby Boomers gradually retire and due to the increased cost of health care. As for Social Security, by 2017 there will not be enough incoming taxes to pay for ebenefits promised and the IOU's in the trust fund will be cashed in and by 2037 all trust fund IOU's will be depleted.
Why should we care? These issues will impact us. Medicare and Social Security may be able to cover our grandparents' needs, but not necessarily our parents' needs. While we hope our parents will continue to remain strong, healthy, and independent, the reality is many of us will be stepping up to help take care of our parents, and that is no easy task physically, emotionally and financially--especially if/when we have families of our own. And while I know my parents have money set aside for retirement, there's no way to be certain how long that money will cover for. My Great Grandma lived to be 101.5, and both of my grandmothers are alive today--one is 91 and the other is 84, and both rely on Social Security despite having worked hard and saved for years. This isn't just my grandmothers' story; it's the story of millions of Americans.
As for us, we're all in the same boat; we don't have a magic eight ball that can tell us our futures. While I personally plan/hope to be able to work for many years before retirement (if I retire at all), I cannot predict how long I will live, what (if any) health issues I will face and if what I save will be enough to cover me down the line.
There is no doubt Medicare and Social Security are two of the most important federal programs, for ALL generations. The question is what do we do about it? Different solutions are being offered, from raising the retirement age to receive Social Security benefits to raising Medicare premiums for everyone. With different ideas and possible solutions being bandied about, one of the most critical actions we can take, and doesn't take long to do, is to get the facts on the issues, and the proposals from both sides. Find out where political candidates stand on Medicare and Social Security and how they plan on handling these issues. Ask questions and do research--it won't take long. These are two issues you can't afford to ignore this election season, and it's our job to make sure the candidates address them.