Shackling the Young to Free the Old

Garrison Keillor wrote a moving article called America Eats Its Young and his words are especially sharp today on Labor Day in the United States where we celebrate the working person before the real work of the Fall takes us over:

I keep running into retirees in their mid-50s, free to
collect seashells and write bad poetry and shoot video of the Grand
Canyon, and goody for them, but they’re not the future. My college kids
are graduating with a 20-pound ball of debt chained to their ankles.
That’s not right and you know it.

This country is squashing its young. We’re sending them to die
in a war we don’t believe in anymore. We’re cheating them so we can
offer tax relief to the rich. And we’re stealing from them so that old
gaffers like me, who want to live forever, can go in for an MRI if we
have a headache.
A society that pays for MRIs for headaches and can’t pay teachers a
decent wage has made a dreadful choice. But healthcare costs are
ballooning, eating away at the economy.

The
boomers are getting to an age where their knees need replacing and
their hearts need a quadruple bypass — which they feel entitled to –
but our children aren’t entitled to a damn thing. Any goombah with a
Ph.D. in education can strip away French and German, music, art, dumb
down the social sciences, offer Britney Spears instead of Shakespeare,
and there is nothing the kid can do except hang out in the library,
which is being cut back too.
This week we mark the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the Current
Occupant’s line “You’re doing a heckuva job,” which already is in
common usage, a joke, a euphemism for utter ineptitude. It’s sure to
wind up in Bartlett’s Quotations, a summation of his occupancy. Annual
interest on the national debt now exceeds all government welfare
programs combined.

We’ll
be in Iraq for years to come. Hard choices need to be made, and given
the situation we’re in, I think we must bite the bullet and say no more
healthcare for card-carrying Republicans. It just doesn’t make sense to
invest in longevity for people who don’t believe in the future. Let
them try faith-based medicine, let them pray for their arteries to be
reamed and their hips to be restored, and leave science to the rest of
us.

Why do we eat our young — those we expect to pay for and take care of
the world in their ripe time — by punishing them in the dawn of their
promise with the sins of our dark wants and charging them with the
burden of our entitled predilections for immortality?

14 comments

  • My wife and I have had discussions about what to do about our kid’s education. One son will be entering college about 10 years from now. The other will be registering for English 101 about 18 years from now.
    The high cost of education, plus the fact that my educational loans will be paid off — the extended plan makes it easier to pay, but means paying loans forever — right before my first born goes to school means that we have to do some serious planning for the future. It also means some sacrifices that others in our society don’t seem to be making.
    We have talked about getting a larger house, but don’t want to take on a mortgage that will last until we are in our 60s or 70s and that will overlap our kid’s college years.
    We’ve also made the choice to stay where we are because the cost of living and taxes are lower, but we’re close to all of the amenities of Chicago.
    I don’t see how people afford to buy the houses they are buying and still afford to save for the future. Even if someone is making more money in the city, doing a quick estimate of expenses vs. income shows it is tough to save anything for the future when paying for a $500,000 condo or $450,000 McMansion in the suburbs.
    My wife suggests that it might be good for our kids to go to school overseas in her home country since the cost is a lot lower and the educational institutions use the same standards as American schools. If they decided to go into engineering, science or the health care fields, they’d have an advantage over their peers because of the lower cost of education. The only disadvantage is that they might have to have their education scrutinized by CGFNS, if they went into nursing, or some other evaluation service.
    It would be a small price to pay for massive educational savings.
    We also have felt the sting of America’s healthcare crisis.
    I switched jobs a couple of years ago so health care coverage, while available, didn’t cover pregnancy within 12 months of signing up.
    My wife’s major medical needs are covered, but pregnancy and delivery weren’t covered. We had to scramble and save when we found out John was coming.
    We made monthly payments to the doctor during the pregnancy to have her paid off before the scheduled C-section. Right now, we’re paying the hospital bill on a monthly basis — it should be paid off in a couple of years.
    Luckily, the insurance kicked in to cover my son when he was born, but we had some problems with them wanting to pay. Something somewhere was keyed in the wrong way at the insurance company, so they didn’t pay some of the bills right away and we had to complain and get my employer to complain before they’d fix the problem.
    I don’t know what the solution is to the problems. It gets harder to figure out how to fix things without causing more problems.
    I do know that if it’s tough in the higher ranges of the middle class, it’s got to be impossible for those at the lower rungs on the ladder.
    By the time we get done paying the house, student loan, medical bills, credit cards, etc. it’s tough to save a few dollars for the future.
    The only saving grace will be that we should have our house and student loans paid off when we are in our 40s because we decided to be frugal when buying our house.

  • Hi Chris!
    Gosh was a story! The uncommon thing about your plight is you are planning to help pay for your children’s education. That is rare.
    Today, most parents tell their kids if they want to go to college they have to figure out a way to pay for it on their own through loans and scholarships because the family budget won’t allow any sort of tuition payment. That places a terrible burden on the young teenager hoping for an educated future but forced to live in a hard familial reality of finding work to not only pay to live but to pay a university. That situation wasn’t so harsh just 30 years ago.
    Pensions and healthcare are smothering the young and not even completely covering the old. We are in a terrible situation where more and more of us are living paycheck to paycheck and that burden alone diminishes moving up and risk-taking in the marketplace on future opportunities because you can’t afford the lag time in losing one job and having the new job pick up where the other left off.

  • This is from today’s New York Times, Cost Of Penstions Adds to Factory Town’s Troubles:

    Cities across New York State are only now starting to grapple with the so-called legacy costs of pensions and retiree health care benefits, and the situation in Lockport — with its rising property taxes and strained budget — is emblematic of what other cities may face in the future.
    Pension costs in New York City have quadrupled in the last five years, and they will soon consume 10 percent of the city’s budget. In Buffalo, the state’s second-largest city, pension costs have risen to $24 million, from $4 million, in the last five years, and the city is now overseen by a financial control board.
    Lockport’s pension costs for public workers have increased more than tenfold since 2000, to $1.6 million projected for this year, from $111,083. During the same period, the cost of providing medical coverage to city workers and retirees has risen 71 percent. Together, pension and health care costs have grown to 14.5 percent of the city’s budget last year, up from 7.6 percent in 2000.

  • We need to invest in the future by providing health care and free higher education.
    While I don’t necessarily think the government can do a great job managing things, we do need to invest in our nation’s future by providing the basics that help society function. Providing free public education at the lower levels is a great thing. In today’s extra competitive world economy, we can’t afford to slip if we are going to compete not on our muscles and brawn, but using our minds in high technology and information jobs.
    Also, free health care would solve many of the problems facing businesses, cities and states across the nation.
    It’s a win-win for business and our society and will help us to remain competitive into the future.

  • I am with you, Chris, on spending our money on health and educating the mind. Why should we pay for those things when we already pay so much in taxes? Tax us a bit more and give us some peace of mind! A sound mind and a healthy body is the best way to protect us at home and keep our interests abroad safe and smart.
    I am uncertain where true “Conservatism” went so wrong. That idea used to stand for the strong individual, a hands-off government and a frugal fiscal policy that would lead to lower taxes. Now it seems that idea means to watch us in public and in private, and a coercive relationship between church and state as one and more time is spent on making us owe more as a debtor nation than a liberal administration. Is this current conservatism the price paid for courting the fanatical religious right wing? Is the diminishing of mainstream life and education wagered in the cost of winning a national election by pandering to extremely narrow interests in order to build a solid “base” of wild, but closed-eye, blind support?

  • From The Washington Post:

    INDIANAPOLIS — Middle-class neighborhoods, long regarded as incubators for the American dream, are losing ground in cities across the country, shrinking at more than twice the rate of the middle class itself.
    In their place, poor and rich neighborhoods are both on the rise, as cities and suburbs have become increasingly segregated by income, according to a Brookings Institution study released Thursday. It found that as a share of all urban and suburban neighborhoods, middle-income neighborhoods in the nation’s 100 largest metro areas have declined from 58 percent in 1970 to 41 percent in 2000.
    Widening income inequality in the United States has been well documented in recent years, but the Brookings analysis of census data uncovered a much more accelerated decline in communities that house the middle class. It far outpaced the decline of seven percentage points between 1970 and 2000 in the proportion of middle-income families living in and around cities.

  • A quiet reader of this blog just emailed me this story:

    As part of a research study at Harvard University, our researchers interviewed 1,771 Americans in bankruptcy courts across the country. To our surprise, half said that illness or medical bills drove them to bankruptcy. So each year, 2 million Americans — those who file and their dependents — face the double disaster of illness and bankruptcy.
    But the bigger surprise was that three-quarters of the medically bankrupt had health insurance.
    Too sick to work, they suddenly lost their jobs. With the jobs went most of their income and their health insurance — a quarter of all employers cancel coverage the day you leave work because of a disabling illness; another quarter do so in less than a year. Many of the medically bankrupt qualified for some disability payments (eventually), and had the right under the COBRA law to continue their health coverage — if they paid for it themselves. But how many families can afford a $1,000 monthly premium for coverage under COBRA, especially after the breadwinner has lost his or her job?

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A9447-2005Feb8.html

  • I think this is a question everyone everywhere is asking.
    In the UK we have the National Health Service to which all those who are working contribute with a *stamp* or % of their paypacket. This theoretically covers you to free medical treatment. Children, the elderly and those who are unwaged do not make a contribution. There is incredible pressure on the Health Service with more and more people “going private” and paying themselves either here or abroad. Many firms are now offering the *perk* of private health insurance.
    Education is also free until the age of 18 – fees for universities were introduced last year.
    Again the state education system is under huge pressure, with underfunding, lack of teachers and large classes.
    One of the reasons I am so poor today is because with the help of my parents I elected to educate my children privately. A true investment in the future. even though my youngest is starting her second year at University – I am still paying off the school bill for her.
    Whereas the education system has never been there for us – the national health system always has.
    However it was not the same for my parents who have paid their stamp from teh inception of the scheme in the late 1940′s early 1950′s. It has failed them when they needed it most – especially in the case of my mother’s resedential/care home fees.
    That has sucked up all of her capital, and now all of her pension with a bill of £50,000 and counting being held against our house.
    I still think our system is better than yours – at least we have a safety net to catch the vulnerable.
    On a related topic , one of the Alternative scene icons gave a lecture at a leather conference recently – The old versus the new – http://lantoniou.mysticrose.com/writings/warnings.htm I think she makes a lot of valid points about how we have to respect each other and work together to find the solutions.

  • It is fascinating how healthcare concerns — the world over — have increased so rapidly without any sense of easing in on the costs to those who cannot afford the top care.
    There are doctors here who will not accept patients on Medicaid because their reimbursement is not enough to cover their costs. So that means if you’re poor, you’re stuck going to a clinic where you wait in long lines like cattle to be seen, but not heard, by nurse practitioners who have taken over the void the MDs have left behind.
    I know several MDs who have gone to a subscription patient clientele. You pay $1,000 USD a month just for access to the doctor whenever you want. You just show up at the office, you are seen, and the doctor will spend at least 30 minutes with you getting to know you in depth. You can call or page your doctor any time of the night or day. They limit their clients to 100-150 so they can make sure they see everyone equally. That way they guarantee a base salary while then charging for every visit. They do not accept insurance. You still pay-as-you-go and the $1,000 a month fee just gets you in the door.

  • That is shocking ………… how many people can afford that ?

  • Hi Nicola –
    Only the Super-Rich. It’s another trinket for the rich to purchase and they wipe it all off at year’s end as a tax deduction.

  • Hi David,
    The health care story reminds me of a family friend. She was recently diagnosed with cancer. She’s still working as much as she can to maintain her insurance. If she takes too much time off from work, she’ll lose her benefits and will probably end up having to file for bankruptcy.
    It’s a catch-22.
    You need time to fight cancer, but can’t stop working because the means to fight it will go away.
    I’m wondering why higher education isn’t provided free of charge in the U.S. Our Indiana Constitution guarantees free common education.
    Ind. Const. Article 8, Section 1:

    Section 1. Knowledge and learning, general diffused throughout a community, being essential to the preservation of a free government; it should be the duty of the General Assembly to encourage, by all suitable means, moral, intellectual scientific, and agricultural improvement; and provide, by law, for a general and uniform system of Common Schools, wherein tuition shall without charge, and equally open to all.

  • Askimet grabbed me. It must have been my citation to the Indiana Constitution’s free public education article that made it worried… ;)
    I figured out what the future website is about — I think. :) It should be a great story and I won’t say any more than that!

  • Got it, Chris! Thanks for the heads up and for the touching story!

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