President Obama forgot something in his State of the Union address – the plight of older Americans.
He talked about a young couple who suffered through the recession but emerged victorious. He talked about middle class economics and helping working families feel more secure in a world of constant change. And all of that is good. But he didn’t mention the other end of the spectrum, the millions of older Americans who are facing the specter of poverty or near poverty in retirement.
Millions of Baby Boomers and Generation X’ers are facing an uncertain future. They don’t have the benefit of a traditional pension because private-sector defined benefit pensions were frozen or discontinued in the 1990s. They were replaced with 401 (k) plans, which are financed by individual workers’ contributions. However, older workers could not save enough to finance a secure retirement in 401 (k) plans because of the recession and they don’t have enough time left in the workforce to rebound. Meanwhile, they lost jobs, investments, suffered housing foreclosures, and continue to face epidemic and unaddressed age discrimination in hiring.
Obama set forth a laudable program to establish paid family and sick leave, equal pay for women, two years of free community college, raising the minimum wage and helping veterans and military spouses find good jobs. All of these goals are worthy. But the silence was deafening with respect to older Americans.
What about assuring older Americans that there will be no cuts in Social Security or Medicaid? How about pledging to address the problem of age discrimination in employment and promising that older Americans will share in the supposed new found prosperity?
In my new book, Betrayed: The Legalization of Age Discrimination in the Workplace, I write about the impending retirement crisis facing millions of Americans, particularly women and minorities.
According to a 2013 study by Economic Policy Institute many of America’s 41 million seniors are just one bad economic shock away from significant material hardship. According to the study:
- Nearly half (48.0 percent) of the elderly population is “economically vulnerable,” defined as having an income that is less than two times the supplemental poverty threshold (a poverty line more comprehensive than the traditional federal poverty line).1 This equates to roughly 19.9 million economically vulnerable seniors.
- The older elderly—people age 80 and older—have a far higher rate of economic vulnerability (58.1 percent) than people age 65 to 79 (44.4 percent).
- Women are 10.7 percentage points more likely to fall below two times the supplemental poverty threshold than men (52.6 versus 41.9 percent)
- The majority of elderly blacks and Hispanics are economically vulnerable: 63.5 percent of blacks and 70.1 percent of Hispanics, age 65 and older, have incomes less than two times the supplemental poverty threshold. In comparison, 43.8 percent of whites are economically vulnerable.
Meanwhile the Employment Benefit Research Institute’s Retirement Readiness Ratings estimates that 41 to 43 percent of Americans are at risk of running out of money in retirement. The EBRI is a private, nonpartisan, nonprofit research institute based in Washington, DC, that focuses on health, savings, retirement, and economic security issues.
Obama’s State of the Union address is yet more evidence that older Americans are invisible in America today. No voice speaks on their behalf in the corridors of power and, as a result, their concerns appears to be ignored.