In the course of human events, many things need fixing. One of them is the cost of Medicare, climbing rapidly as baby boomers enroll in large numbers. We can argue over how to contain this major federal expense, and we should. But assigning blame for the problem on anyone born between 1946 and 1964 seems an absurd way to go about it.
Foes of Medicare and Social Security have long tried to corral resentment against baby boomers to weaken public support for these programs. Some supporters on the left do likewise in an effort to move more resources toward programs serving the young and the poor.
Boomer-bashing may be entertaining, but it's not smart analysis. It's become the fashion nevertheless.
Boomers should "repent," Washington Post writer Jim Tankersley declares with no hint of humor. He charges, "Boomers soaked up a lot of economic opportunity without bothering to preserve much for the generations to come."
Two interesting notions here. That economic opportunity is a fixed quantity that gets used up. That Americans belonging to a set age group act in unison, hold the same political views and are all rolling in dough. Tankersley thus calls on "boomer candidates" to reduce carbon emissions and head off a debt crisis. Is he talking about Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush or Bernie Sanders? They're different, you know. And what is our author doing about his fellow Generation Xer Ted "I don't believe in climate change" Cruz? Generation Z may someday demand an explanation.
Let's be mindful that America doesn't control everything that happens on this planet. That makes throwing the book at one of its age groups even odder. "They opened global trade and watched millions of U.S. manufacturing jobs vanish," Tankersley writes. Actually, several million of those lost factory jobs were the boomers'.
Without a doubt, older Americans on average have had an easier time of it economically than members of Generation X and certainly the younger millennials. And there are limits to how much working Americans can pay for programs serving retirees. But let's discuss these issues in a rational way.
The Urban Institute projects that couples retiring in 2011 will draw $200,000 more from Medicare and Social Security than they paid in taxes to support the benefits, Tankersley notes. "And yet almost no one suggests that boomers should share the pain of shoring up those programs."
The Urban Institute should know better than to lump Medicare and Social Security together. That entire $200,000 is tied to Medicare.
Social Security is self-funding. Until 1983, it was strictly pay-as-you-go. Workers were taxed just enough to support current beneficiaries. Recognizing that a surge of retirees would put great pressure on the workers later on, both political parties did ask the boomers to help strengthen the program. Social Security tax rates were raised. So was the age for receiving full benefits. And for the first time, Social Security benefits were taxed for those earning above a certain amount.
Baby boomers have been building up the Social Security trust fund for over 30 years, which is why the program's finances are in fairly good shape.
Medicare is another matter. Much of its funding comes from the Treasury, that is, income taxes. It's been victim to the ridiculously inflated cost of health care in this country plus quite a bit of fraud. The good news is there's lots of low-hanging fruit to be plucked for savings.
Generational names do provide useful shorthand for Americans sharing certain experiences by virtue of their age. But let us judge individuals by the things they do, not the year they were born in.
(A member of the Providence Journal editorial board, Froma Harrop writes a nationally syndicated column from that city. She has written for such diverse publications as The New York Times, Harper's Bazaar and Institutional Investor.)
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