How to Ignore Older Americans: Obama’s State of the Union Speech

Per the President, there is not much need to address issues around aging in this country. Nevermind that we are an aging society. Our changing demographics is one of the most important national (and global by the way) trends. But no need to address any issues around that.

Social Security provides the basic foundation of retirement income for older Americans. For 60% of those over the age of 65, Social Security provides a majority of income, in many cases, over 80% of income. Per the Social Security Trustees the Social Security Retirement Trust Fund (OASI) may run out in 2034. I know that is 20 years down the road and the President was looking at the next 15 years. Still this is the time to address the potential shortfall. Of course, he doesn’t want to bring this issue up. It is not one that he and the Congress are likely to find any common ground to make recommendations.

Access to health care was addressed and we have seen progress here. Ten million more Americans have access to health care. But Medicare faces a trust fund that may run out in 2030. Now this is an improvement, largely due to an improving economy, and I do give the President credit for steering us from the Bush era recession. Still, Medicare’s health spending continues to increase (some from more older persons, but mostly from more expensive health care). Something needs to be done soon. Like Social Security, changes to Medicare will require a lead time so future beneficiaries can adjust their expectations.

The President did speak to one key issue regarding older Americans – retirement. He offered a number of proposals to substantially expand workers’ access to retirement savings, mostly through new savings options through employers. More workers would be automatically enrolled in retirement savings accounts thus leading to better preparation for retirement. Although this does not benefit retired older Americans, it’s a good step in helping workers prepare for retirement in this new economy.

So Social Security and Medicare remain the ‘elephant in the room’ that we won’t discuss. The GOP Congress has opened the issue by voting to restrict transfers from the Social Security Retirement Fund to the Social Security Disability Fund. (That fund may be out of funds next year.) It’s not a good start, and the liberal side opposes it, but a change that stimulates controversy may also, one hopes, lead to a discourse that will improve Social Security and Medicare supports for all older Americans.