On entitlements, younger generation has its say

April 18, 2011|Susan Reimer

Bill has been my favorite nephew since he entered this world 32 years ago as the first of my parents' grandchildren, and I am certain that he would not hesitate to care for me in my declining years.

It is the other 75 million members of my generation that Bill isn't interested in supporting, and the prospects of having to do so threaten to wreck an unusually harmonious relationship between generations — in many more families than mine, I suspect.

You see, Bill believes there is little money left in the coffers of the entitlement programs meant to cushion the golden years of my cohorts and me, and he is certainly there won't be any when it is his turn to call on Social Security and Medicare.

And while I am sure he would happily have money deducted from each paycheck to pay for my heart medicine or my rent in a senior apartment building, he has a mortgage and a new baby and he is furious at having to pay for everybody else born between 1946 and 1964.

"You don't have to be an economist to understand that your children cannot both sustain your retirement entitlements and still prepare for their own," Bill said in the days after Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, and President Barack Obama re-opened this can of worms.

He calls often to cross political swords with me, and I am flattered that he considers his aging aunt worth the time.

Bill says we are kidding ourselves if we think we can just roll merrily along toward economic disaster, hoping that the clouds will part and a solution will appear. He thinks our leaders are dishonest and cowardly.

"We need to have some who will stand up and say to us, everyone younger than a particular age will not see Social Security. You need to put that out there and have it be definitive, to give us enough time to deal with that reality."

This is an issue that will divide the generations more certainly that birth control, marijuana or rock music did 40 years ago, Bill believes.

"The Greatest Generation and the baby boomers have bled the system out," he said. "And yet you are still at the helm, making decisions for my generation.

"You may be retired for nearly as long as you worked," he said. He ignored my protests that — just as he doesn't believe there is any money left in the Social Security trust fund — I don't believe I will ever afford to voluntarily retire.

"You may live to be 100," he said. "And I am going to be paying for every one of those days."

Bill made the point that my father had a good pension that sustained him and my mother until their deaths. Social Security was almost fun money for them.

Because my boomer friends and I saw our own pensions go away, we will have to rely more on Social Security, and we will use our voting muscle to make sure we get what we need.

He says: "My generation won't have pensions, and we won't have Social Security."

Partisan tinkering with Medicare isn't going to fix this problem, Bill said. Nor are we going to fund what is essentially a welfare state for seniors by removing earmarks from the budget or getting out of two wars and trimming defense spending.

"We have to have a fundamental conversation about what government should do, and whether we are willing to pay for it," he said.

"I am never going to see any of my Social Security money," he added. "I am paying for yours — and the lie that I will get mine."

Our conversation was not as tense as it sounds. I am sure Bill will still come to a holiday dinner at my house, and I will be there for the baptism of all his children.

But like any family relationship, things get awkward when there is money involved.

Susan Reimer's column appears Mondays. Her email is susan.reimer@baltsun.com.

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