Martha Holstein, an Elder Economic Security Initiative Board Member, from Chicago's Health & Medicine Policy Research Group shares her thoughts on why elder economic security is part of a greater need of solidarity and security across generations.
Divided We Fall: Economic Security and Intergenerational Solidarity
Amidst all the current economic turmoil Social Security and Medicare are there—the only guaranteed source of income one can’t outlive and health care that no one can take away. These guarantees are critical for older people and for their families. If these programs were weakened, needs would have to be met by someone and that someone is most likely one’s sons and daughters. The entire family would lose. We need to think of old age entitlements as family benefits, a contribution to the family commons and absolutely essential to mitigating threats to the health and well-being of the entire family. The family commons implies that we need to share our common goods with each of us not taking more than we need—and sometimes perhaps taking less than we need. Intergeneration solidarity rather than intergenerational equity.
There is another reason to commit to intergenerational solidarity. Research makes it very clear that continuity in life circumstances is prevalent. Rather than these circumstances improving in old age, the older we get the more disadvantaged we become. Known as “cumulative disadvantage” it suggests how powerfully our family’s social and economic status, our education and our related opportunities are not easily overcome. Today, this is particularly unsettling since we know that young men are earning less than their fathers did at the same age. This statistic is apt to worsen as we see the results of the current economic downturn. The foretelling about the future condition of the aged, to be documented in the next generation’s Elder Standard, is a potent reason to act now to make sure that American’s younger families have a better shot at economic security. It is really for all of us!