In a capitalistic society, money plays an important role. Without enough money to ensure an adequate standard of living numerous spinoff problems, poor health, shorter life expectancy, inadequate housing, higher crime rate and exploitation, develop for the poor no matter what their age. The problems faced by aged minorities are compounded by having spent their younger lives with inadequate incomes and unsatisfactory health services. The “poor get poorer.” The White House Conference on Aging in 1971 reported that aged blacks are more than twice as likely to be poor as elderly whites. (Bert Kuger Smith, p 52) Minorities with language barriers are hampered even more by their lack of sound communications skills. The need is strong for outreach programs that can advise this particular group of elderly about existing services. A student exercise is included on this topic. The PreWhite House Conference on Aging reported that “the average age of death for the American Indian is 46 years.” (Smith, p 58) No wonder the Indian in the television public service spot on antilittering had tears on his face. This native American’s life expectancy is only about two-thirds that of the white settlers of his land. It is important to remember that there is a big difference between what is listed in government financial reports as being “adequate income” and geographic reality. Cost of living standards vary sharply within any state and therefore being able to make finances stretch in one community may not be enough in a nearby community. Poverty can occur in all places and in all ethnic groups in spite of thrift and past labor simply due to outliving diminished savings because of the greatly increased cost of living and not being able to take in enough new income to cover expenses. The battle of making ends meet is not only demeaning, it is wearing. Elderly people usually have decreased resilience to deal with hassles, officials in agencies, to wait in endless lines or to fight in court when their rights are violated.
Economic aspects of aging are complicated and difficult to separate from general economic and political issues of society. The basic problem is how to support, out of current and accumulated production, the non-productive members of the society, children, sick, old and others. The problem is relatively simple when the proportion of those needing help is small in relation to those providing, but becomes far more difficult when there are large numbers of needy. The problem can be dealt with in various ways, such as increased productivity, delayed retirement, or reduced benefits to the dependent. A depressed economy is not conducive to increased productivity. High rates of unemployment in the young and middleaged workers presents problems with extending the worklifespan. To decrease necessary spending on child related services would be short sighted, so the only place to target less support is on the elderly.
One attempt to deal with the burden of reduced finances during old age was the development of the Social Security system. The Social Security Act was passed in 1936 to help set up a system to provide for people when they could no longer be “productive” or for families where the breadwinner had died. Employers, employees and selfemployed people pay compulsory Social Security contributions into a pool of special funds that pay taxfree monthly benefits to the worker or his/her surviving dependents upon retirement, death or disability. Voluntary medical insurance, Medicare, is also available to those over sixtyfive from individual premiums and matching federal funds. About nine out of ten wage earners and selfemployed workers are enrolled in the Social Security program, but not all occupations are covered, so there is a void. Social Security benefits are based on total earnings and how many years worked in a complicated system of income averaging. Work credits are calculated by yearly quarters. A minimum of six credits is needed to be insured, but to receive maximum benefits, income, as well as, number of years of work is considered. (Sam Julty, p 279) In theory, the Social Security system made sense, but major economic problems have tarnished the dream of golden retirement on Social Security benefits. The latest bailout measure, the 1983 Social Security compromise, was signed on April 20, 1983. The American public is aware of the dubious future of the Social Security system. Many who are now paying contributions into the system are afraid the system will not be able to pay them when it is their turn to receive benefits. This shaky system contributes to feelings of animosity toward the elderly. There are many unresolved questions that arise around what happens to the Social Security system if the economy continues a downward spiraling and generally around what exactly the younger generation owes the older generations. A student exercise on the Social Security system is included.
There are other sources of income for the elderly, such as limited parttime jobs, pension plans, savings, private investments, properties, and insurance, term, whole, straight, and endowment. Food stamps have helped many on limited incomes struggling with inflated food prices. It should be remembered that the financial condition of the elderly has several direct implications on their lives. “Money can’t buy everything,” but it sure can pay the bills for housing, food and health needs, three major and interrelated problems for the elderly.