By Jim Towey
The Covid pandemic is officially over. America’s seniors bore the brunt of its damage, by countless metrics. The great majority of Covid deaths – 76% – occurred among Americans age 65 and older. Hospital quarantine policies systematically isolated elders and deprived the dying of the company of their loved ones. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities became like prisons with little or no visitation permitted. Masking policies, now generally recognized as ineffective and unnecessary, further traumatized these residents who longed to see smiles and familiar faces, and instead, were delivered meals in their rooms, for months. Social distancing mandates made life miserable and spread loneliness. In so many ways during Covid, our public health leaders seemed to love the elderly to death.
But the damage doesn’t stop there. The economic punishment has been equally severe. Foolish lockdowns instituted by presidents Trump and Biden, and reckless public spending by the trillions of dollars by both, sabotaged a highly functioning pre-Covid economy and unleashed inflationary pressures on the pocketbooks of all Americans, acutely affecting the elderly who live on fixed incomes and cannot return to the workforce to supplement their earnings. The out-of-control national debt that now is front and center for Biden and Congress, virtually guarantees even higher deficit spending as rising interest rates mean higher costs to service this debt.
As a consequence, Social Security and Medicare accelerate their march toward insolvency. Forecasts vary on exactly when these programs will not be able to pay their obligations, but few believe the U.S. can pay its obligations in full a decade from now.
The aging face of poverty
Eighty-five years ago, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made the case for Social Security, noting how “millions of our people were living in wastelands of want and fear. Men and women too old and infirm to work either depended on those who had but little to share or spent their remaining years within the walls of the poorhouse.” President Lyndon Baines Johnson, 35 years after Social Security was created, pushed Congress to create Medicare. “The later years of life should not be years of despondency and drift,” he said. He claimed Medicare would “free the aged from the fear of financial hardship in the event of illness.”
The gains America made in freeing the elderly from “want and fear” and “despondency and drift” are matters of national pride. But the face of American poverty is becoming wrinkled again. Rising rents punish those on fixed incomes, and the costs of assisted living, home health, and nursing home care are beyond the reach of all but the wealthy. Nearly 30% of the elderly live alone, and according to Consumer Affairs poverty statistics, more than 15 million older adults are economically unstable, with one in eight women over 80 living in poverty. And none of these numbers touch on the ongoing pandemic of loneliness.
In the past, if seniors were to be spared social and medical care insecurity, presidential leadership was indispensable. Roosevelt, Johnson, and George W. Bush (through his expansion of the Medicare prescription drugs) proved this.
Biden-Trump rematch = disaster
Unfortunately, if the public opinion polls have it right, the prospects for presidential leadership look utterly bleak. Joe Biden and Donald Trump should not be seeking a second term. Neither is fit (for different reasons) to lead the nation in this time of challenge, and both should have the grace to let others take the helm. Neither has a record of capable leadership in tackling the costs of aging. Both failed to shore up Social Security or Medicare. They have made things worse through their policies and inaction. A Biden-Trump rematch would be a disaster.
America’s seniors are an admirable, self-sacrificing people. They proved this during Covid, suffering in silence as their rights were seized by public health politicians. Our country’s elders will shoulder their fair share of the burden as our country’s finances are restructured.
Aging issues belong front and center in this next election. The United States deserves candidates at the top of the ballot who have the vision, energy, character and capacity to unite Americans and lead the nation forward. Will our democratic processes deliver them?