On last Friday's post about the fading of our five senses as we age, S.C. Jones responded to my mention of the dental bone grafts and implants I am undergoing:
”As for teeth, and bone—one of the debilitating and dreadful losses. There is no way I could afford the fix you are undergoing, Ronni.”
Before I get to the topic at hand, let me explain that I too can't really afford it which is why I had to choose an overdenture rather than a full set of implants. (I'll explain overdenture when the time comes in my dental odyssey.)
It took me many days of angst to consider having the work done because the only way I can pay for it is to raid my end-of-life fund. In actuality, it depletes that fund by a third. This is money set aside to use if I become totally disabled and need full time care.
So using this money for the overdenture implants was a serious decision (there are no windfalls in my future from rich aunts or uncles) but there was a likelihood too that depending on how long I live, it could cost a great deal more over time to keep my mouth in reasonably good shape.
The dentist has assured me that barring unexpected events, this work should last 30 years which gets me to age 104. Hey, you never can tell.
After I began the procedures, an acquaintance asked what happens if I don't live so long or if I die soon after the work is finished – won't I be sorry to have spent all that money for naught?
Well, the only answer to that question is, Huh? - although I trust I was more polite than that. I strongly suspect there are no regrets after death nor do I believe money is necessary following that event.
So it's teeth and S.C. Jones who brought to today's consideration of longevity, a closer look than the usual actuarial tables telling us how wonderful it is that we now live so much longer than our parents and grandparents.
Because of those statistics, the 2016 presidential candidates – mostly Republican – are already lining up to declare that Social Security benefits must be cut. (It won't be long before they pounce on Medicare too.)
With old people living so much longer, the candidates say, we can't afford to pay the promised benefits. As you might expect, the temptation here is to show you a whole lot of numbers and charts. Instead, let us look at who is living longer and then decide why Republicans want to cut Social Security.
As Ezra Klein reported last month at Vox:
”According to the Social Security Administration, retirees who made above-average incomes in their working years live six years longer than they did in the 1970s. Retirees in the bottom half of the income distribution live only 1.3 years longer.”
This “longevity gap” began receiving widespread coverage in the media most recently during the unrest in Baltimore:
”...a hypothetical case of two babies born on the same day this year in Baltimore. One is born in Roland Park, a wealthy neighborhood in the north of the city. The other is born just three miles away in Downtown/Seton Hill, one of the city's poorest neighborhoods.
“The Roland Park baby will most likely live to the age of 84, well above the U.S. average of 79. The Seton Hill baby, on the other hand, can expect to die 19 years earlier at the age of 65.
“That's 14 years below the U.S. average. The average child born this year in Seton Hill will be dead before she can even begin to collect Social Security.
“The only thing more astonishing than this 19-year gap in life expectancy is the short distance you have to travel in Baltimore to get from one extreme to another.”
I know I said no charts but here is just one that expresses the sharp class difference and how it has grown.
Gray shows longevity of the bottom half of income distribution; red show the upper income distribution half. 1972 on the left; 2001 on the right. A larger, more readable chart here.
As this implies, there is also in the U.S. a racial and educational longevity gap - and it is getting worse - as Business Insider reported last year at some length:
”In 2009, the average life expectancy of black men and women in the United States was just 75. That's roughly the same as the average life expectancy of white men and women in 1979 — 30 years earlier. The average life expectancy of black men in 2009 was just 71 (compared to 76 for white men).
“...The researchers found that white men with 16 or more years of schooling can expect to live an average of 14 years longer than black men with fewer than 12 years of education.(For white and black women with the same educational differences, that gap was 10 years.)”
The longevity gap has widened in concert with the increase in income and wealth inequalty and it is the Republican candidates and their billionaire backers who are demanding that the people who need Social Security most learn to live with a lot less.
Michael A. Fletcher reported for the Washington Post in 2013:
”Now, as the cost of providing old-age benefits has emerged as the key driver of the nation’s long-term budget deficit, there is increasing pressure to again raise the retirement age — this time for both Medicare and Social Security.
“But given the widening differences in life expectancy for people on opposite ends of the income scale, 'that would mean a benefit cut that falls heaviest on people who generally are most reliant on Social Security for their retirement income.
“'It is totally class-based,' said Eric Kingson, a Syracuse University professor and co-chair of Social Security Works, a coalition opposed to reducing old-age benefits.”
As has been reported in these pages for many years and throughout the media, there is a variety of fair ways to find enough money to maintain Social Security indefinitely. Why hasn't that happened in Congress, do you think?
The longevity gap has been growing over many years and it has become abundantly clear that Republicans are willing to arrange the economics of the United States so that rich people automatically live longer, much longer, than everyone else.
Think for a moment about how grotesque that is.
Then don't forget that there is an election next year. It's the only weapon we have against the class warfare being perpetrated by the billionaire class and their Republican handmaidens.