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COMMENTARY:

The Golden Years in America: Can’t Work, Can’t Retire (Unless You’re a Bailed-Out Banker)

by James Ridgeway
First published in his blog Unsilent Generation yesterday, 29 October 2009

With prospects like this, some old people may start to feel like going before those mythical “death panels” isn’t such a bad idea after all.

The National Committee to Protect Social Security and Medicare reports today on recently released statistics that illustrate the lose-lose situation now faced by many older people, thanks to Wall Street and the recession it spawned.

The National Retirement Risk Index shows that a majority of American households are at high risk of not having enough money in retirement. The 51% finding is the highest at-risk percentage since the index’ creation in 2006. The report concludes:

“…half of today’s households will not have enough retirement income to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living, even if they work to age 65, which is above the current average retire?ment age. Even if the stock market should bounce back, the housing bubble is unlikely to reappear. And as defined benefit plans fade in an environment where total pension coverage remains stagnant, Social Security’s Full Retirement Age moves to 67, and life expectancy increases, the outlook will get worse over time. The NRRI clearly indicates that this nation needs more retirement saving.”

And yet, working longer isn’t as easy as it sounds for the over 60 employee. The New York Times sums up the unemployment figures for seniors:

“...there are more Americans 65 and older in the job market today than at any time in history, 6.6 million, compared with 4.1 million in 2001. Less well known, though, is that nearly half a million workers 65 and older want to work but cannot find a job — more than five times the level early this decade and this group’s highest unemployment level since the Great Depression. The situation is made more dire because of numerous recent trends: many people over 65 have lost their jobs as seniority protections have weakened, and like most other Americans, a higher percentage of them took on debt than in previous generations.”

With prospects like this, some old people may start to feel like going before those mythical “death panels” isn’t such a bad idea after all.

None of this applies, of course, to the people responsible for placing large numbers of America’s seniors in financial peril in the first place. Wall Street is whining about he limits on executive pay announced last week by White House “pay czar” Kenneth Feinberg. These apply only to the 25 top execs at each of the seven huge companies that are currently using bailout funds, and still allow them to make multiple millions per year. What’s more, unlike the rest of us, these guys can still look forward to getting golden parachutes to cushion their golden years. As the New York Times reports:

[I]t’s worth noting that certain contentious pay issues were either ignored or shoved under the rug. Ken Lewis, the soon-to-be-retired chief executive of Bank of America, has declined to take a salary in 2009, at Mr. Feinberg’s urging. But he is still going to get around $70 million in retirement pay — which Mr. Feinberg could do nothing about. And so Mr. Lewis will soon join the ranks of other top Wall Street executives who walked away with millions after doing a miserable job. That’s the kind of pay practice that makes people justifiably angry.


Born in 1936, James Ridgeway has been reporting on politics for more than 45 years. He is currently Senior Washington Correspondent for Mother Jones, and recently wrote a blog on the 2008 presidential election for the Guardian online. He previously served as Washington Correspondent for the Village Voice; wrote for Ramparts and The New Republic; and founded and edited two independent newsletters, Hard Times and The Elements.

Ridgeway is the author of 16 books, including The Five Unanswered Questions About 9/11, It’s All for Sale: The Control of Global Resources, and Blood in the Face: The Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nations, Nazi Skinheads, and the Rise of a New White Culture. He co-directed a companion film to Blood in the Face and a second documentary film, Feed, and has co-produced web videos for GuardianFilms.

Additional information and samples of James Ridgeway’s work can be found on his web site, http://jamesridgeway.net.

This article is republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.



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This story was published on October 29, 2009.