[EDITORIAL NOTE: For those who are waiting for an email response from me, my internet connection was down for most of yesterday afternoon. I'll be catching up today.]
First it was Wall Street firms and mortgage lenders that were bailed out, then banks and a giant insurer or two. The big three auto makers (they of individual private jets) are toiling through Thanksgiving on a report to Congress due next week so they can get their slice of the bailout pie. There is no telling what industries will go begging to Washington next.
Meanwhile, the number of home sales are the lowest on record and the median sale price is down by more than 11 percent from a year ago. At the same time, the jobless rate hit 6.5 percent, the highest in 14 years and is expected to jump further in 2009.
According to surveys, most people are scaling back Christmas spending this year. Malls are empty and luxury goods retailers are complaining that even the rich aren’t spending.
What none of this tells us is the toll on individuals. But it isn’t much of a stretch, even if you’re getting by so far, to imagine the struggle of millions of people. We’ve heard a lot about those forced out of their homes due to foreclosure. For others, crucial bills like electricity, heating fuel and insurance are going unpaid.
And some people are going hungry. [See this story of middle class slide into poverty in today's Washington Post]
My heart aches for everyone who lacks a home and food. The concern of Time Goes By, however, is elders.
President-elect Obama’s announcement of a stimulus plan that creates jobs makes sense to me and as awful as it is to contemplate a national debt in the trillions, it also makes sense to accept short-term debt in exchange for re-engaging the economy. On a tiny scale, I’ve done that myself in the past and recovered. Obama's idea for creating jobs is so obvious, one wonders why it's taken a new president to do it:
“We’ll put people back to work rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, modernizing schools that are failing our children and building wind farms and solar panels, fuel-efficient cars and the alternative energy technologies that can free us from our dependence on foreign oil and keep our economy competitive in the years ahead.”
But none of this addresses, nor has anyone in a position to do anything mentioned the problems of elders – those who are retired and near retirement – whose difficulties are unique among the generations.
Here is some of what’s been bothering me:
• Social Security was never meant to be the sole income of retirees. Most elders also rely on investments and savings, the return on which has dropped dramatically. People have lost 30, 40, 50 percent and probably more in some cases, of their retirement nest eggs.
• What happens to the pensions of those whose former employers are filing for bankruptcy?
• Elders are forced to withdraw funds from their IRAs at age 70-1/2. How many are taking a huge financial beating doing so.
• Not all retirees are capable of returning to work, even if there were jobs for them.
• With so many unemployed and more job cuts on the way, what chance do elders have of finding work in a culture as ageist as ours? Age discrimination in the workplace makes it hard for older people to find jobs in the best of economic times.
• There is a quadruple whammy for people nearing retirement: lost jobs, lost 401(k)s, low home prices and few homes selling making planning for the future hard.
• Some people’s homes have been on the market for a year and more, making it impossible for those who need assisted living to make the move.
It’s not that I have answers (well, temporarily suspending the requirement to cash in a portion of IRAs at 70.5 years would be a small start) and there is a lot to juggle for the people who have the power to make changes that might help the economy in general and for individuals. It was heartening yesterday, after the new economic team was introduced, to hear President-elect Obama say that we need:
"...a recovery plan for both Wall Street and Main Street...Our families cannot afford to keep on waiting and hoping for a solution."
True, but so far, the only people directly benefiting from the bailout are giant corporations and their executives who have mostly been allowed to keep their astronomical salaries and bonuses, with help for some midlife people on the way with the new jobs stimulus.
I’m not asking for a bailout especially for elders, but I would like to hear that their unique circumstances are being considered, that some thought is being put to those who have the fewest resources to recoup their losses.
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lia presents a collection of four short, short pieces from her recent trip titled, Berlin Café Stories.]