If I am a Vermont senior living on an insufficient, fixed income, I deal with difficult daily realities: Choosing between food or medication or between feeding myself or my pet; not going out because I can’t afford a vehicle and public transportation is unavailable; or, weighing carefully every purchase I make. My only human contact may be the volunteer who delivers Meals-on-Wheels. I am anxious about paying my property taxes or in constant dread that an unexpected expense is going to throw me into uncontrollable debt.
In the second oldest state, with 30% of our citizens over 55 (the fastest population increase being persons over 65) and many seniors finding living in our district unaffordable, financial security for my fellow seniors is to me a major concern.
Ideally Social Security, funded by worker contributions, provides for a decent retirement after a lifetime of labor. However, funding and distribution prove less than ideal and add to a growing economic inequality.
During the work years, whole categories of employees, particularly women, are underpaid and thus receive less in retirement benefits. Meanwhile, the affluent, through regressive funding, do not pay their fair share. Upon retirement, the well-to-do have a variety of incomes and Social Security for them is supplemental. For the not-so-well-off Social Security is survival.
Enemies of Social Security want to weaken the program, lessen benefits, decrease cost-of-living adjustments and remove government control. Arguing that Americans are living longer, they want to raise the benefit eligibility age, ignoring that it is the rich, not the low income workers, whose longevity is increasing. Hard working Vermonters, who often bring the aches and pains of years of physical labor and limited survival years into retirement, need a lower eligibility age.
For retiring Vermonters we must continue our government controlled Social Security program with increased benefits; an eligibility age returned to 65; a more comprehensive medicare (open to 55-year-olds) which includes lower drug prices; supplemental payments to bring everyone to a livable income; and, full commitment to all community services such as home delivered meals, in-home support, senior centers, guaranteed transportation, safe public accommodations, and consumer fraud protection. For Vermonters still in the workforce we need increased contributions from higher income participants.
For lower income workers we need a living wage, equal pay for women, paid sick and family leave, reasonably priced housing, publicly financed health care, debt-free education, affordable day care and a state sponsored retirement program.
Let us not go gentle into underfunded retirement, but rage against a system that has many of us struggling to achieve what we contributed to, a comfortable, productive and happy closing of our years.