ELDER MUSIC: Not Rhymin', Simon
Growing Old with Unrealized Ambitions

The Longevity Gap

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.


I will come back and read comments at the end of the day. I find this subject interesting. I know many who live only on SS. Hard working, honest people who had lower wages during their working years.

However, I must comment... These politicians that want to cut SS.. Are they also cutting their pay? Are they willing to use their campaign funds to take care of the elderly? And why don't PAC funds give to working class?


Thank you for this subject of our great and widening divide, and for your willingness to discuss the dental procedures you are having to undergo. It is a credit to your aliveness and level of functioning that you are pursuing the health options you have available.

The financial, educational gaps and how those gaps are being widened by our "of, by and for the people" political system gets to the heart of an American crisis of conscience.

Your piece brought to mind the arrogance of Ted Cruz regarding President Obama’s statement that everyone should have the right to go to college.

Ironically, but not with irony, Cruz said of President Obama: “What arrogance!”

I listened to Bernie Sanders yesterday morning on CBS. He is sounding better and better to me every day. Unless Hillary starts to address the issues pertaining to the elderly and Social Security, I may have to change my mind and go for the "Old Man".

I want to acknowledge the great contribution you make in elucidating the real issues buried in all of the white noise and distractions. I accepted two "take-it-or-leave-it" deals with the United States (military and OASDI), both of which the Government seems determined to abrogate.
It really makes me think about trust and loyalty. Thank you for bringing clarity.

"Longevity Gap?"

Another propaganda tool to raid Social Security and demolish a system that Those People have been against since it was founded in the 1930s. A Shanda on them.

There has always been a longevity gap between the rich and the poor. What's different, now, is there are so many people in power who want to widen that gap. We have to get rid of big money in politics and to overturn the Supreme Court decision that allowed that to happen is going to be a big battle. But it's an essential place to start, if we're going to help ourselves and those elderly that will come after us.

Before you did I also made the choice for the overdenture.
The implants and imply on a slavery of a twice a year expensive dentist apoint for cleaning and maintenance
warmest regards

So wealth inequality equals longevity inequality. That's very interesting and has a lot of political ramifications. It's so fascinating to count the ways conservatives seek to destroy egalitarianism, even though that was the Enlightenment that the Founding Fathers dreamed.

I am more and more convinced that when democracy fails, government becomes a corrupt racket, taking from the poor to give to the rich. That's what reducing Social Security payments in order to protect the rich from taxes amounts to.

As someone who has recently moved to Denmark I'd like to commiserate with those facing this type of dilemma and chastise those who think that healthcare is not a right - especially for those people who have worked all their lives and now in their twilight years have to worry about basic necessities like teeth. Now, while the Danish health system does not cover teeth after childhood years, it does cover all other medical so regardless of age, work status or lack thereof I know my health/medical needs are fully covered. Not only is this convenient but the piece of mind it gives you is immeasurable and leaves one with free to spend money on one of the few things the state doesn't cover such as teeth. Yes, Danes pay higher taxes (pegged to income) but you cant' put a price on health - unless you're a Republican. ;)

Everyone who reaches the age of 65 and wants one should receive a SS payment.

I remember when the time arrived when I could receive my first SS check. A lot of stress was let go as I felt I now could make it no matter what--- I had some money coming in that I could count on.
That fear of being a bag lady was always there in the back of my mind. And now, even if I was unlucky enough to become a bag lady, I'd have some control.

As an aside, why all the attention and consumption of news of "royals", red carpet celebrities and Downton Abbey, which portray this division and incredibly cruel reality (and warped idea of accepted privilege)?

It will be those who see beyond this thin veil of deception who will demand a rewrite that equates us all to one another.

Oh, my. Upon rereading, it sounds rather arrogant. Must climb off this high horse, as I've done little, outside of myself, to remedy the situation.

The quote from the Washington Post above says this:

”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."

I thought our budget deficit was caused by unfunded wars started by Bush and Cheney, tax cuts for the rich, and a disastrous financial crash caused by Wall Street and the banks. In what way is our deficit caused by my paid-for Social Security? That money was taken out of my paychecks over many years. It's my money. It can't cause a deficit. Isn't this a lie that the Right Wing is using to take our money away from us? Please correct me if I'm wrong.

Because I am well educated I feel fortunate. I was able to work in industry for 13 years and paid into social security. Then for 21 years I taught in an inner city high school where I contributed to a pension plan that was matched by the district. I also paid into an annuity.

There are thousands out there like me. We also have insurance benefits beyond Medicare due to unions bargaining for our coverage. I am grateful.

However, because I have a teacher's pension, social security says I can't 'double dip" so my benefits are cut. I do find that unfair. My husband has a veteran's pension but social security has no qualms with that so he gets both.

Luckily I'm a smoker and have been since age 15, so I shouldn't live too much longer. I am "out-living" my teeth (I kind of have this theory that, if there is a god, she never really intended for humans to live as long as we have now.).

And I have a life-long fear of dentists (and pain). However I am avidly interested in the procedures you're enduring, just in case I might be able to afford them. Could you provide a "ball-park" figure now so I could either erase the possibility from my future or could pursue the subject a little further?

The amounts my husband and I receive from SS is terribly small, but we were forced to take early retirement due to disability issues (none of which are related to smoking by the way).

We do own our home and have some savings, however, both are in jeopardy because of taxes owed by my deceased mother that the revenewers are trying to collect from all her children. I had never heard of such a thing being possible, but we've been under this cloud for five years already and still don't have a clue as to what the outcome will be....

So we may become wholly dependent upon our SS for our sole support and are naturally afraid of what the future will be, especially with Citizens United skewing the odds on all elections.

I think it's a crime that Medicare doesn't cover glasses, hearing aids or dental care. Those are the three things that every old person needs!
My gums are failing. Ronni, I agree, can you explain the difference between implants and overdenture? What are the costs, if you don't mind my asking?

I just searched the internet for the information I wanted re: dental procedures and cost. You can find all you need to know, and a call to dentists in your area, will give you more information.

A pox on those evil jerks who sit it their Ivory towers and spend all of their time trying to figure out how to zap the poor for a few more dollars to add to their growing tower of wealth. Money that they will never spend.

I think I will go hide my head in a sand pile. Life is hard enough for most of us without forcing us to live in absolute poverty so the CEO's of the corporations can buy another Lear jet.

Linda, of course wealthy Repubs aren't going to give up a penny of "their" money to those they look down upon as "takers". That would probably include people like my husband and me. We both hold master's degrees and have a combined total of 117 years in the workforce (we both worked well into our mid-70s). If I hadn't been laid off four months ago, I'd still be working. Because we need the Social Security benefits we earned, the 'Pubs view us as less-than, and that makes me extremely angry! Why aren't we rich like they are? Oh, of course. We should have worked harder and longer!

Or. . .could it be because we chose employment in the nonprofit sector? On top of that, we worked in a human service field that is largely invisible to the general public (until they need help) and thus isn't generously funded. Since we didn't earn a lot, we weren't able to sock away millions in (untaxed) offshore bank accounts like Mitt Romney & friends.

We did the best we could, and we're getting by thanks to S/S, modest earnings from investments and savings. However, we are hardly living the high life. We reside in a 40 Y/O manufactured home community. Our SUVs are 15+ years old. We don't travel, take vacations or buy much of anything we don't actually need. We eat out maybe 2-3X/year. I worry about affording new glasses and the hearing aid that may not be far down the road. I worry about the cost of vet care for our two 13 Y/O much-loved cats. We're lucky to have a great retiree health plan; without that, I'd worry even more.

There are many retirees who are doing worse than we are. I'm not complaining; it's just that the conservative decision-makers in Congress have no idea what life is like for ordinary people. I understand that human service occupations generally pay modestly, and we could have chosen another line of work. However, the work we did was of service and benefit to society, which is a foreign concept to the Repubs. Regardless of the Ayn Rand acolytes currently running Congress, those who make service their career DO deserve to retire in dignity and some degree of comfort.

VOTE--definitely vote!!!

Who would have known that we are our teeth?

Thanks for this topic. I have had fun researching the longevity gap. The SS issue is critical, wow hadn't even thought of it.

I am trying to figure out what causes the gap. Some obvious reasons - Better health care, no hard physical labor and long hours, less stress, better nutrition, less toxic environment.

But there is also the cause and effect question. Chronic illness for example - I was a professional working person with good income - then became disabled and fell to a subsistence SSD income. So am I going to live less long (statistically speaking) because I have been sick for 30 years or because I have a low income? There are a lot like me - I wonder how much we contribute to this gap.

Costs, go to somewhere like Costa Rica, they have some excellent dentists. Up here in Canada my husband is going through 8 implants with bone grafts and then all the remaining teeth crowned or veneered - total cost 75K. My neighbour spent 35K just for the back biting teeth so 8 implants with grafting. He then broke his hip 1.5 years later, developed dysphagia and can't eat anything solid - he's only 78. Most people don't make it to 90.

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