Wish I felt secure that this AARP program will succeed

May 16 2012 - 10:50pm


I should admit to a conflict of interest here: I am 63, I joined AARP for the discounts, and Social Security is a key part of my retirement planning.

But we all have that last conflict. Social Security is part of the fabric of the nation. It is why parents don't have to move in with their kids.

Which is why, if we buy the nonsense that Social Security is broke, or a Ponzi scheme, or needs to be killed off for everyone under 55, our children will have a much bleaker future.

Social Security was started because old people, especially those who couldn't work, were starving to death during The Great Depression.

People thought starving old people was bad. A national insurance plan was put into place.

Which is why you didn't see a lot of starving old people during our most recent recession. They were at the grocery store buying food with their Social Security checks.

It is no secret Social Security and Medicare both have long-term funding issues. The Utah Chapter of AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired Persons, is promoting a program to work to solve those issues.

What AARP wants -- you're going to laugh -- is a reasoned dialogue on options: Increase revenue, reduce costs, string out benefits, or what?

Yeah, I know: In today's poisonous political climate? HAH!

AARP gets points for trying. Their Utah officers visited the Standard-Examiner on Tuesday to discuss their new "You've Earned A Say" program. They're holding meetings around the state, hoping to find solutions and candidates who might support them.

They even have a website, www.earnedasay.org.

I was frustrated because their first meetings just asked people if they thought Social Security and Medicare had problems.

Duh, but I guess you have to start with the basics.

The AARP folks did say that after everyone agrees "yes, Social Security has problems," they're going to start on solutions.

AARP is hearing that a lot of people depend on Social Security and Medicare. There are 355,000 Utahns receiving checks. Twenty five percent of them depend on it for 90 percent of their living expenses.

The Social Security Administration says that, as of December 2011, there are 335,444 beneficiaries of all its programs in Utah, including 219,591 retirees. For all programs, including children, survivors and disabled, it sends $379,672,000 to Utah every month. That's $4.3 billion a year flowing to Utah.

That is $1.3 billion more than the annual economic impact of Hill Air Force Base.

AARP sees massive disconnects in its meetings.

"I had one guy tell me that Social Security doesn't mean anything to him because he's giving the full amount he gets to his kids, who are struggling," said Alan Ormsby, director of AARP's Utah chapter.

Then he smiled, wondering that the guy can't see that his kids are depending on Social Security.

Ormsby said people complain of a huge disconnect between their need for Social Security and what politicians in Washington do about the program.

The way our politicians manage the program's money does not inspire confidence. Congress and President Obama seem ready to make a "temporary" reduction in the Social Security payroll tax permanent.

Cutting dedicated revenue for a critical program makes no sense, so kudos to AARP for at least trying to make some. Watch for a meeting near you.

Our kids will need Social Security, if for no other reason than in an era of frozen wages, rising prices and a job market increasingly hostile to the elderly, it guarantees some measure of retirement security.

Plus, even after 77 years, it still works.

If you disagree, ask your grandmother to quit cashing her checks and move in with you.

Good luck with that.

The Wasatch Rambler is the opinion of Charles Trentelman. He can be reached at 801-625-4232, or ctrentelman@standard.net. He also blogs at www.standard.net.

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