Whether you think America already is great or needs to be made great again, if you are over 60, you may be feeling like wallpaper in this election’s run-up about now: You are there, presumably contributing to the room’s decor, but it’s finally dawning that nobody actually sees you.
Between the “believe me I’ll fix it” Trump answer to everything and the “yeah but is she trustworthy?” feelings about Clinton, there remains one truism: The 2016 presidential election is not about growing old in America. Neither candidate has made Social Security reform, Medicare insanity, ageism or elderly poverty so much as a talking point let alone a priority.
We published this originally last May, and since nothing has changed, we’re trying again! This is where the top candidates stand on issues that matter to older citizens. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ views have been removed in the version below as he is no longer a candidate. Here’s what we wrote:
Voters age 50 and older are expected to turn out in force in this, the mother of all presidential elections. We offer this guide on what the [leading] presidential candidates have had to say about the issues of key importance to this voting bloc:
Social Security: The gift that we hope keeps on giving.
There are around 40 million people collecting Social Security benefits. Over half of workers between the ages of 55 and 64 have no retirement savings, according to the GAO. More than a third of senior citizens depend on Social Security for virtually all of their income. Yes, Social Security is a vital concern.
The problem is that the Social Security system is on track to run out of money. That, by most estimates, won’t happen until 2033, at which point — assuming nothing else is done — it plans on reducing benefits by 25 percent.
Everyone wants to fix Social Security so that the fund doesn’t go broke; they just don’t agree on how to do it. There are at least a dozen ways and plans that have been proposed to “save” Social Security. Here’s how the leading candidates say they will do it, according to their websites:
Hillary Clinton’s website says, “Hillary understands that there is no way to accomplish that goal without asking the highest-income Americans to pay more, including options to tax some of their income above the current Social Security cap, and taxing some of their income not currently taken into account by the Social Security system.”
She would also fight privatization, oppose any reduction of the annual cost-of-living adjustment, and not raise the retirement age — an idea she has called “unfair;” the GAO says that raising the retirement age disproportionately hurts the poor.
She would also expand Social Security benefits for widows and those who took time out of the paid workforce to care for a child or sick family member.
Donald Trump’s website focuses on seven key positions and mentions about a dozen other issues. Social Security isn’t among them. Trump believes that strengthening the economy and creating more jobs would, in turn, generate more payroll-tax support for Social Security. At the South Carolina GOP debate on Feb 13, 2016, Trump also said there is waste, fraud and abuse in the program. He said, “We have in Social Security thousands of people over 106 years old. You know they don’t exist. There’s tremendous waste, fraud and abuse, and we’re going to get it. But we’re not going to hurt the people who have been paying into Social Security their whole life and then all of a sudden they’re supposed to get less. We’re bringing jobs back.”
Medicare: The plan we love to hate.
Medicare pays for hospital care for those age 65 and over, and heavily subsidizes their doctors’ visits, medical tests and drugs. But it is far from free. Almost all seniors pay monthly premiums for some parts of Medicare, and many also enroll in a supplemental insurance plan, Medigap, to help cover out-of-pocket costs.
TheWeek reports that in 2010, the nation’s Medicare bill was about $524 billion, or 15.2 percent of all government spending. Only Social Security and the defense budget cost taxpayers more.
One of the most frustrating parts of Medicare is not knowing what is covered. Eye glasses, hearing aids and dentures are not (no dental care at all) — three things that seniors regularly need. Low-income seniors sometimes must choose between filling their expensive prescriptions and buying groceries. According to Hunger in America, 30 percent of its client households with seniors said they have had to choose between paying for food and paying for medical care.
Clinton’s plan is to push down drug costs by allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower prices with drug manufacturers. She would allow Americans to import lower-cost drugs from foreign countries and reward drug companies that invest in the development of “life-saving treatments rather than jacking up prices without innovation.” Her changes will save Medicare more than $100 billion in program spending, her campaign claims.
Again, nary a mention of Medicare on Trump’s website. But he has promised that “On day one of the Trump Administration, we will ask Congress to immediately deliver a full repeal of Obamacare.” And then this happened, as per the Wall Street Journal: “After the administration has been in place, then we will start to take a look at all of the programs, including entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare,” said chief Trump policy adviser Sam Clovis, during an event in Washington. “We’ll start taking a hard look at those to start seeing what we can do in a bipartisan way.” Did he just call them entitlement programs?
College: Affording it without incurring a lifetime of student debt.
People who are post 50 know first-hand how crippling student debt has become. It’s why they have adult kids still living at home and why they are looking toward community colleges for their kids who are now graduating high school. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, outstanding student loan debt in the U.S. is between $902 billion and $1 trillion with about $864 billion of it owed to the federal government who loans students money. College has just become unaffordable. According to the College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2015 - 2016 school year was $32,405 at private colleges, $9,410 for state residents at public colleges, and $23,893 for out-of-state residents attending public universities. The call to “find a better way” needs to be answered.
Clinton’s plan is called the New College Compact. She says students should never have to borrow to pay for tuition, books, and fees to attend a four-year public college in their state. Colleges and universities will be held accountable for improving outcomes and controlling costs. Students will do their part by contributing their earnings from working 10 hours a week. Families will be asked to make “an affordable and realistic family contribution.” And the federal government will provide grants to states that commit to these goals and cut interest rates on loans. Students at community college will receive free tuition.
Trump’s website doesn’t cite a plan to address student debt or the skyrocketing costs of higher education. In a campaign rally in New Hampshire, he was reported saying “Just trust me.”
Caregiving is in crisis mode.
Families and friends have become our nation’s go-to plan for caring for the nation’s elderly. The price tag for this kind of informal caregiving in the United States comes to $522 billion a year, according to a RAND Corporation study.
Replacing that care with unskilled paid care at minimum wage would cost $221 billion, while replacing it with skilled nursing care would cost $642 billion annually.The personal toll on the caregiver is also mighty. If they leave their own paid employment to stay home and meet the needs of an elderly parent or ailing spouse, their Social Security, pension and 401k benefits all shrink. And re-entering the jobs market at a later point is often difficult, if not outright impossible.
On the campaign trail, Clinton regularly mentions giving caregivers relief. She has proposed a $6,000 tax credit to offset caregiving expenses and would allow earnings credit toward Social Security for family caregiving.
“No one should face meager Social Security checks because they took on the vital role of caregiver for part of their career,” said a summary of her plan.
Trump’s website remains silent on the subject and it does not appear he has said much about it while campaigning.
Age discrimination is real.
People over 50 regularly report that they can’t find jobs because of their age. Ageism has been described as the last unaddressed prejudice in America. Age discrimination is blatant, but very little is being done about it by the EEOC. While sex is a protected class in employment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, age is covered by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. That leaves the EEOC somewhat toothless in demanding that companies track the age of their work forces. What will the candidates do?
Radio silence on all fronts for the most part. Disappointing.
Alzheimer’s is our boogey man in the closet.
One in nine people age 65 and older has Alzheimer’s disease. Nobody really likes those odds. Losing our memories, the ability to live independently, to even recognize our loved ones — we want no part of it.
Clinton says that by 2025, we can prevent, effectively treat, and make an Alzheimer’s cure by investing $2 billion a year in research.
Trump has called Alzheimer’s a “total top priority for me.” His father had Alzheimer’s.
And about all we can add is this: Stop booing and just vote.