|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
Is there a new, bipartisan consensus forming on Capitol Hill about whether (and how) to scale back Social Security benefits? A surprising number of signs point to "yes" -- and that has many progressives looking ahead a few months to what they believe could become a serious fight.
Several of the most powerful members of the House -- Republicans and Democrats -- have recently voiced real support for the idea of raising the retirement age for people middle-aged and younger as part of a larger plan to reduce long-term deficits, inching closer to what not too long ago was the third rail of American politics.
The strongest backer of this plan is House Minority Leader John Boehner, who recently told a Pennsylvania newspaper, "I think raising the retirement age going out 20 years so you're not affecting anyone close to retirement, and eventually getting the retirement age to 70 is a step that needs to be taken."
There's no big surprise there. The Republican minority in the House doesn't have a lot of power, but if Boehner had his druthers, he might well take things quite a bit further. He's the one, after all, who won't take Social Security privatization off the table if Republicans retake the House.
It's the Democrats who have progressives feeling queasy.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer explicitly put the idea on the table as well in a speech last month. "We should consider a higher retirement age or one pegged to lifespan," Hoyer said.
He echoed House Majority Whip James Clyburn, who put it this way: "With minor changes to the program such as raising the salary cap and raising the retirement age by one month every year, the program could become solvent for the next 75 years." One month a year may not sound like much, but if you're 30 years away from retirement, that adds up to almost three years.
In the House, though, Nancy Pelosi is the linchpin, and she's not nearly as enthusiastic as her colleagues. But, notwithstanding the enthusiasm gap, she also left the possibility of raising the retirement age on the table. When asked about it by TPMDC at her press conference last week, she criticized the plan, but mainly to say she disagrees with putting Social Security on the chopping block ahead of other measures. "Why they would start talking about a place that could be harmful to our seniors -- 70 is a relative age," Pelosi said. "Around here, there's not a lot of outdoor work or heavy lifting. But for some people it is, and 70 means something different to them. So in any event let's talk about growth, lets talk about how we can reduce spending, lets put everything, those initiatives: promoting growth, tightening the belt, looking at entitlements. But let's not start on the backs of our seniors."
There's one catch, though. Last week, Democrats included a rider to the supplemental war spending bill that will likely force the House to vote on a forthcoming fiscal reform plan, if the Senate passes it first. That package is being put together by President Obama's deficit and debt commission, and will be ready to go after the midterms. Pelosi had already pledged to give the package a vote, so perhaps nothing has really changed. But in a way, she also tied her own hands: if the Senate passes a broad tax-and-entitlement reform package at the end of this Congress and her own caucus is willing, she'll be hard-pressed to stop the Social Security reforms she thinks should come last.
Here is a fact: There. Are. No. Jobs. I'm in Silicon Valley where the official unemployment rate dipped in May to 11.2%. This dip was, of course, because of so many people just giving up trying to get a job, certainly not because of some wave of hiring. The underemployed figure, known as "U-6," is 21.7% in California, 16.7% nationally.
You have to know someone to get a humiliating job standing on a corner waving a sign. And if you are over 40, things are even worse than that. Don't give me any conservative Rush Limbaugh-Ayn Rand dehumanizing nonsense about parasitic lazy people who won't look—there are no jobs.
I know so many people here who are over 40, were laid off in the 2000-era dot com crash, still haven't found a regular job and aren't going to. They have had occasional "contract" positions—which means no benefits, no security, a 15% "self-employment" tax and no unemployment check when the job ends. And now, 10 years later they're a lot over 40 and are not going to find a job because so many employers here won't hire people over 40.
And now there are so many more who lost their jobs in the mass layoffs of 2008-2009 and can't find a job. So many of them are also over 40. In fact, many were laid off in obvious purges of over-40 workers, offered a small severance that they could only receive if they promised to take no age-discrimination action against the employer. (I don't say "company" because some of these worked at nonprofits.)
Most of these people will not find another job, but are too young for Medicare and Social Security.
One Person's Story
I ran into a friend this weekend who I hadn't seen for a couple of years. He had been a computer engineer who had been making 6 figures in the dot-com years. Laid off in the 2000 crash, he moved in with his parents back in the Midwest and worked in a bakery. He came back out here when things picked up a bit and worked in one "contract" job after another. (Contracting is just a scam to get around employment laws—but the government doesn't enforce the rules.) But now he just can't find anything. He managed to get unemployment but now that is running out. He has no health insurance. He can't afford a place to live; he "house sits" for people or visits friends, and doesn't know what he is going to do even two days from now.
What is he going to do? Can you tell me? He has gotten a few interviews, and when they are computer-related is always told he is way overqualified, doesn't seem energetic, probably won't be willing to work 20 hours a day, doesn't look like he is up to date on things that are happening with computers, etc. (How many ways can you say "too old?") He's about 45. If things pick up he will get another job. But people just a few years older will not.
I'm 56, and trying to find work OUT of the Los Angeles area. I'd like to move to Kentucky, where my fiancee is.
Not so much as a call back, and I've got 30 years of experience in copy editing, publication design, advertising design and speaking/presentation training. I've been doing web design since '94, when we had to optimize everything for dial-up modems.
I'm "too old".
I -was- told plainly by one recruiter that his employer client wouldn't consider me because health insurance for me would be too expensive, Fred. It seems experience and talent are no longer valued.
I live in Missouri and lost my 13 year job with a municipality 16 months ago because of a political turnover. Previous to this position, I was with another municipality for 18 years. Management in both positions, first as Finance, then in Human Resources. I am 56, with a Master's Degree and 31 years of municipal management experience. And - I can't get a job, to save my soul - or my house! I am either under-qualified or over-qualified or just plain don't even warrant a response at all!
If I get a response to an application or resume at all, it is that they received many applications from highly qualified people and I am not being considered. A recent submission was to a City almost the same size and budget as my previous position, doing exactly what I had been doing, and I wasn't highly qualified enough to even get an interview. Give me a break!
I lost my computer programming job in February this year.
It was nothing more than simply not having the new skill set the company required and feeling that with my workload the company would look askance at doing any on the job training. So I'm out of work and most likely out of luck.
I've had one interview since then with a local company who stated that they wanted someone who could do the work immediately without further training and who would be around for the long term. This from a company that was looking for a programmer after laying off people due to the bad economy.
I have been unemployed since 2008. I have fought to keep my home and pay the bills. I look for jobs 10 hours daily. I have filled out applications that ask if you’re under 40 or over 40. I didn’t know that was a legal question to ask. I am over 40 and I believe that is one of the reasons I do not have a job offer. I have had few interviews with one call back to say I did not get the job and another said I had the job but when I called back to inquire about my application; He said they filled the position from within the company. I cannot believe this! Where am I to go? If I cannot pay the mortgage, no home, cannot pay the phone bill, no phone, cannot pay the internet, no internet. I am at an all time low. I have always worked; you do not know how this makes me feel that I cannot support my family. How would you feel if you had to face your family with no job? I am trying but that is not good enough!
I have been unemployed since Feb. 2009. It is now July 2010. I live in Highland Co., Ohio. It now has the 2nd highest unemployment rate in the state. When DHL in Clinton Co. went out of business, half of the people in Highland Co were also thrown out of work. So how can you find a job with that many people out of work. When one job opened up at a factory , 3000 people applied to it!!!! How to you compete with that many people hunting for work. All I want is to keep a roof over my head and buy groceries. There are no JOBS in my area. The stimulus that was for creating jobs has only helped those that do road work. Great for them, but what about me? I got laid off from a BANK. How ironic that is.
After working for eight and a half years at IBM, Nancy Ikeda, 55, lost her job 13 months ago. She had lived in Binghamton, N.Y., since her daughters were in high school, but after spending most of the year looking in vain for another job, Ikeda decided she couldn’t stay any longer.
Unskilled workers undoubtedly have the hardest time finding jobs today: many of the manufacturing jobs that fueled the engine of prosperity in the decades following World War II no longer exist in the U.S.: they have moved to Asia and Latin America. Unions have grown weaker and so are no longer able to protect workers as they once did. The corporate focus on the bottom line mandates efficiency at the expense of workers: whenever possible, expensive manpower is replaced by machinery, and even white-collar work is moved overseas, where wages are lower. In the past decade alone, 5.6 million manufacturing jobs have been lost to automation, Goodman reports.
But Ikeda has an M.B.A. “You’d think I’d be employable,” she says.
You’d think—but Ikeda belongs to the cohort of women 45 to 64 years old, and they have been hit particularly hard in this recession.
Members of Congress are not eligible for a pension until they reach the age of 50, but only if they've completed 20 years of service. Members are eligible at any age after completing 25 years of service or after they reach the age of 62. Please also note that Members of Congress have to serve at least 5 years to even receive a pension.
The amount of a congressperson's pension depends on the years of service and the average of the highest 3 years of his or her salary. By law, the starting amount of a Member's retirement annuity may not exceed 80% of his or her final salary.
According to the Congressional Research Service, 413 retired Members of Congress were receiving federal pensions based fully or in part on their congressional service as of Oct. 1, 2006. Of this number, 290 had retired under CSRS and were receiving an average annual pension of $60,972. A total of 123 Members had retired with service under both CSRS and FERS or with service under FERS only. Their average annual pension was $35,952 in 2006.
Under the Former Presidents Act, each former president is paid a lifetime, taxable pension that is equal to the annual rate of basic pay for the head of an executive federal department -- $193,400 in 2009 – the same annual salary paid to secretaries of the Cabinet agencies.
Each former president and vice president may also take advantage of funds allocated by Congress to help facilitate their transition to private life. These funds are used to provide suitable office space, staff compensation, communications services, and printing and postage associated with the transition.