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Archive for the ‘The elderly & ageism’ Category

Creating a dehumanizing, negative stereotype is a precursor to harming a demographic segment of a population.  Lack of respect displayed toward older Americans and blamed heaped on them for everything from traffic jams to bankrupting the health care system are evidence of creeping ageism in the United States.

While teaching a class a number of years ago on racism and groupism in general at Kansas State University, I found a full-page Newsweek  photo of nursing home residents sitting in chairs, holding their arms above their heads.  They were being led in exercises by a young woman.  The caption read, “Geezer Boom.”

These older Americans were characterized in the article as helpless invalids who are a burden to younger members of society.  This kind of portrayal of the elderly is pervasive in the mass media and is becoming fixed in the psyche of the under-65 population.  During the recent debates on health care, we heard “unplugging granny” over and over.  This metaphor is supportive of the notion that the fruits of a long life are, at the end, intubation and ventilation.  As I will discuss with very good evidence in a later post, nothing could be further from the truth.

Epithets are evidence of isms such as racism, sexism, gayism and ageism.  I find myself having to confront friends, students, and relatives for using terms like “geezer,” “codger” and “coot.”  These terms may seem funny but they are disrespectful, harmful and insulting.  I have the same concern about using “granny” in the context of plugging and unplugging.

Ageism is characterized by blaming, epithets, infantilization and neglect.  If older Americans can be reduced to being thought of as nothing more than a “pain in the neck,” it will be acceptable to commoditize them as revenue producing objects to be placed in sub-human, profitable, nursing home conditions.

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Beginning with the Reagan Administration, there has been a steady, incrementally-successful movement under way to rig the economic and political system against the interests of the bulk of the U.S. population.  People in perhaps the bottom four income quintiles are now paying a disproportionate share of taxes in comparison to the top 20 percent, which amounts to an income redistribution toward the wealthy classes.  At the same time, most Americans are receiving fewer benefits for the taxes they do pay, which is resulting in a lower quality of life as measured by health care availability, educational opportunity, employment income and housing affordability.

At this time, two targets of the plutocratic, ruling class are Medicare and Social Security.  Pay attention to the steady “drum beat” of dire warnings about the coming of the budget-busting, elderly hoard.  It is important for all citizens to inform themselves about the demographics of the U.S. population and the realities of Social Security and Medicare financing.

An Aug. 17, 2009, column by Ross Douthat–one of a bevy of conservative columnists for the New York Times (along with David Brooks and Tom Friedman)–is one good example of the propaganda perpetrated on an unsuspecting public by conservatives. In an ageist, “blaming-the-elderly,” ill-informed, insulting column, “Telling Grandma ‘No,”  Douthat put out the following false information:  “…by 2030, there will be more Americans over 65 than under 18….”

We have to be on watch for this type of propaganda. 

Here is the truth:

According to the Population Division of the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2030, the percentage of our population under age 18 will be 23.51%, while the percentage of those 65 and over will be 19.3%.  After 2030, these percentages will change very little. By 2050, those under age 18 will constitute 23.14%, while those 65+ will account for 20.17% of the U.S. population.  This leaves approximately 57% of the population as potential wage earners who will be funding their own future benefits of Social Security and Medicare.

This should hardly be viewed as a major, unabsorable shock to the U.S. budget. Indeed, it should be much much less of a problem for our country’s coffers than continuing to finance the folly of war, bank bailouts, give-aways to the pharmaceutical industry and the military-industrial complex welfare programs.

(I will write more about the Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds in later posts.)

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The Nov. 21-27, 2009,  issue of the Economist was devoted to the U.S. budget deficit–its causes and solutions.  I found it disconcerting that this conservative, business-oriented publication chose to focus on programs for the elderly as the main causal factor in our current 13 trillion dollar debt.  For instance, on page 13, an editorial writer had the following to say: 

“America’s deficit problem is in essence a spending problem, so spending must bear the brunt of adjustment.  An aging population and health care inflation are inexorably driving up the cost of the country’s three big entitlements: Social Security (pensions), Medicare, and Medicaid (health care for the elderly and the poor, respectively).”

This is reminds me of the blame for U.S. budget woes heaped on welfare recipients during the Reagan and Clinton Administrations.  And, indeed, a punitive so-called “welfare reform” act was passed during the Clinton Presidency.

Nothing was said in the Economist about spending on the military-industrial complex, the trillion or so that was gifted to Wall Street gamblers, tax cuts for the rich, handouts to the pharmaceutical industry, and on-going wars of choice–just to name a few other drains on the Federal budget.  In terms of adjustments, the Economist might have mentioned some of the current proposals to tax financial transactions, taxing hedge fund managers as employees rather than treating their income as capital gains, increasing the capital gains tax, and so on.  Why does the debt problem have to be solved, again, on the backs of the elderly and the poor?

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