The other day, my mother mentioned to Dear Husband (DH) that if she’d known she was going to live this long, she’d have taken better care of herself. Since she’s still working and living in her own house (at 70), I think she meant that she’d have planned better… because she’s already outside the parameters established when she was born:
The driving force behind the growing cost of retirement is the fact that the baby boomers will spend more time in retirement than any previous generation. According to the Center for Disease Control, a 65 year old can now expect to live another 18 years, on average. American seniors are living 50 percent longer than they were in the 1930s, when Social Security set 65 as the benchmark retirement age.
For some retirees, realizing how long they will live after retirement is a shock in itself. “When my husband used to talk about retirement, I would get really upset. I finally realized that I was thinking of retirement as the last step before death,” said Peggy Briggs, a 67-year-old Nebraska state retiree. “Living a long time can be the scary step if you don’t have enough resources to stretch over that period of time.”
Americans are living much longer; we all know this — but for years, we’ve been talking around it, and “fixing” Social Security is the phrase behind which we’re hiding. If you’re like me (and millions are), you’re saving for your child’s (or children’s) college education, and your own retirement (sans Social Security), and some form of long-term care for at least one parent.
Just how many ways can you split a dollar?
As Molly Selvin’s article in last month’s LA Times shows, the problem is far more complex than that:
Recognizing the mounting burden of caring for aging parents, companies including NBC Universal, Unilever USA and McGraw-Hill Cos. now offer services that include underwriting the cost of emergency caregivers and connecting employees with nursing-home finders or physicians who specialize in older patients.
Some employers are allowing workers to include their elderly parents in health insurance coverage. Some provide counseling, group support sessions, more flexible work schedules and even help with errands and home repairs.
We are a much different America than the one into which my mother was born.
Did any of us seriously expect to keep working into our mid to late 60s, while simultaneously trying to maintain our parents’ homes, or drive them to medical appointments, or even nurse them at home? And how many of us still live in the same towns (or even states) as our moms and/or dads, anyway?
Unfortunately, while Selvin’s article optimistically touts several corporations that are responding to the problem, it’s a route that’s been run before:
Although little data are available on the number of companies offering these benefits, consultants say elder-care assistance is catching on faster than did child care.
Many executives at these employers, typically men, initially saw child care as primarily a benefit for female workers. Elder care, on the other hand, is seen as a burden for both men and women, said Ellen Galinsky, president of the New York-based Families and Work Institute.
“Not everyone has children, but everyone has a parent,” said Alexandra McCauley, a human resources vice president at NBC Universal in New York.
Also, experts say, full-time elder care is often more expensive and harder to find than child care.
In this ever-more-competitive business climate, I doubt seriously that elder care is going to catch on any better than child care did.
We are not ready for this.
I dunno… after all, as the boomer generation ages, employers are going to have to look for ways to retain some of the more talented of the lot – and offering this *benefit* might give them an edge.
Actually, I think that if employers do respond to the coming challenge with elder-care benefits, it’s just as likely to be because of this (also quoted above):
And this (not quoted, but from later in the same article):
I think that “Just how many ways can you split a dollar?” is almost the question. I’d ask it this way: “Just how many ways should you split a dollar?”.
Fifty years ago health care for the elderly consisted primarily of radical surgery and making them comfortable for the end. Now both the possibilities and the costs are dramatically higher.
As uncomfortable as this discussion may be, today’s seniors have an ethical responsibility to their children to consider how much of their health care costs must be paid for using future generations’ tax and after-tax dollars.
Consider that the marginal value of additional health care benefits begins to decline after a certain point in one’s life. The rules of cost/benefit are not suspended in the medical realm. Trade-offs have to be made.
If my natural life span is 72 years and I can extend that to 80 by using drugs and therapies that my family and I can afford, great, I should. But if the cost of my extra years means that my grandchildren would be denied their own medical care or college education, I should consider my responsibilities to my progeny before demanding that every available dollar be spent on me.
The same logic applies at the collective level. It’s simply not ethical for today’s seniors to bankrupt the social systems of a nation to extend their lives beyond the point of marginal utility. And they should know that without having to be told.
In other words, they should put themselves on the iceberg and drift out to sea, rather than insisting their children do it for them?
Of course, you could take this several ways:
1) How about children born with birth defects? Treat… or No Treat?
2) How about people with ‘self-inflicted’ conditions (e.g. lung cancer, diabetes)?
3) At which point to we check for those who might be of ‘marginal utility’ while still in the womb, and then simply eliminate the problem before it is ever born?
Not questions I would want to be responsible for answering.
Finding good childcare is very, very difficult. I know because I lost a son at the age of 2 when I left him with a nanny. I wish I knew exactly the events that took place that day. If I only had a nanny wireless camera, I wouldn’t be guessing and wondering what happened to my child. I am very passionate about the subject and so empathetic to moms who have to go to work and leave their children in the care of a stranger.