You wouldn’t know it from our political debates, but America’s alleged “entitlement crisis” was clear a half-century ago to anyone who bothered to look.
The generation that survived the Great Depression and World War II came home and reproduced with great enthusiasm. Their enthusiasms overcrowded maternity wards, then elementary schools, then colleges, workplaces, highways and subdivisions. Now those numbers are beginning to put a strain on pension programs, Medicare and Social Security, with the worst yet to come. Why is everyone acting so surprised?
Yet neither party seems willing to grapple with this easily foreseeable situation. Republicans act like the only possible response to the cost of promises made over 50 years to taxpayers and employees nearing retirement is to walk away from them. Democrats would rather not talk about it.
But the numbers don’t lie, as Bill Keller of The New York Times explained in a recent column headlined “The Entitled Generation.”
In it, he detailed the ominous threat to the federal budget that is the baby boom generation, now retiring in record numbers and gobbling up entitlement dollars like there is no tomorrow, which there may not be for our kids if solutions are not found.
Citing research from the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way, Keller compared Uncle Sam’s investment to entitlement spending over the last half century. He found that in 1962, America put 32 cents of every federal dollar toward infrastructure, schools, defense, science, etc. –– the “foundations of prosperity” –– and 14 cents toward Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. In 2012 those numbers are 15 cents and 46 cents, respectively.
By 2030, a breathtaking 61 percent of the federal budget is forecast to go toward entitlements. Meanwhile, if the nation’s working age population grows 20 percent in the next 30 years, the number of senior citizens is expected to climb 100 percent.
A similar hand-wringing is going on at the state and local level, as people calculate the projected costs of the pension and health care promises they’ve made to state and municipal employees.
Yes, it’s a lot of money. But these are commitments that hold moral as well as legal weight. Employees have contributed to their pensions in every paycheck on the understanding that the benefits would be there when they retire. Government can’t walk away from those obligations, saying “we just don’t have the money,” any more than you and I can walk away from our credit card bills on the same lame rationale.
As Keller writes, “The arithmetic simply doesn’t work.”
Because of the promises we’ve made, the rise of health care costs and the predictable explosion in the number of retirees, entitlements owed the aging are squeezing out investments we should be making for our children and grandchildren.
We need a more candid discussion about how we can find the money to keep our commitments to all the generations of Americans.
Page 2 of 2 - -- MetroWest Daily News (Mass.)