Don't Take the Vote Away From Seniors
By Barbara J. Easterling
I don't know Ruthelle Frank. But I do know that what is happening to her is enough to make my blood boil. Along with many other seniors, Ruthelle may lose the right to vote because she lacks a government-issued photo ID card.
Over the past year, GOP-controlled state houses have been passing what are known as Voter ID laws. Proponents say it is to cut down on voter fraud. Opponents say fraud of this nature is quite rare and that the true intent is to keep certain voters at home. According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, nationally about 18 percent of seniors and 25 percent of African-Americans do not have photo identification.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Ruthelle, of remote Brokaw WI (pop. 107), does not have a driver's license, and lacks a birth certificate needed to get a state identification card. She has a Social Security card, a Medicare card, and a baptism certificate. Even if she were to pay $20 to get a birth certificate, her maiden name was misspelled by the attending physician at her home birth. To rectify this, she would need to petition the court and pay a $200 fee. Ruthelle, an elected member of her Village Board since 1996, recently became a plaintiff in a law suit to block the new law, which was authored by Governor Scott Walker.
Voting laws vary by state, so please check with your state or local elections office for more details. Election laws and procedures can be very complicated, but as retiree activists I believe we have a moral responsibility to defend and educate our fellow seniors on such an important issue.
Our generation, like those who came before us, fought and died for the right to vote. We must never let politicians take this away.
Mitt Romney Earns More by 6:00 a.m. Than Many Seniors Do in a Year
by Barbara J. Easterling
In 2010 Mitt Romney made $21.7 million, while that same year the average senior citizen received $14,000 in Social Security benefits.
Put another way, Mitt Romney made more by 6:00 a.m. on January 1 than many retirees did the entire year. His daily income was over four times greater than many seniors’ annual income.
Why does this matter? Shouldn’t his finances be none of our business? To me, it matters because of how sharply it contrasts with his plans to increase the Social Security retirement age, lower benefits for some seniors, and let Wall Street gamble away – and profit from – a privatized Social Security system. It reflects a cold indifference to those less fortunate.
Seniors – along with younger generations who worry if they will ever be able to retire – need to keep a close eye on politicians this year. For example, Romney’s stance on Social Security does not match his telling a group of seniors on the eve of the Florida primary, “We will never go after Medicare or Social Security.”
Social Security is not just another pension fund for the Bain Capitals of the world to raid. Social Security is how each day – while Mitt Romney earns another $59,360 – millions of retirees are able to pay their bills and put food on the table.
When the Going Gets Tough, Seniors Must Get Voting
by Barbara J. Easterling
With Social Security and Medicare facing harsh threats from various politicians, retirees must keep a close eye on the 2012 elections.
The recently-deadlocked super committee was the latest in a line of blue-ribbon panels -- preceded by Domenici-Rivlin and Simpson-Bowles -- that have debated, and in two instances recommended, drastic cuts in Social Security and Medicare, landmark programs that have helped generations of seniors stay healthy and out of poverty.
These threats to retirement security will continue unless two pillars of our fiscal debates change: 1) the false but widely-held belief that Social Security increases our deficit, and 2) our fundamentally-flawed tax and spending policies that drain federal coffers to benefit corporations and those in the top one percent of incomes.
The current field of GOP presidential candidates offers little solace to seniors who are worried that their Medicare and Social Security, or that of their kids and grandchildren, will be sacrificed to pay for even more tax breaks for those least in need.
For example, Mitt Romney has called for a higher Social Security retirement age, which would hurt blue collar workers far more than venture capitalists. He wants to move toward a privatized "voucher" system for Medicare that would have seniors buying coverage from insurance companies. This would be a taxpayer-subsidized gift for corporations that already enjoy exorbitant profits. Moreover, under Romney's Medicare, seniors would face great risk and anxiety, as its funding levels would face annual votes in Congress.
Newt Gingrich would privatize Social Security, allowing Wall Street to profit handsomely by managing individual accounts tied to the roller coaster of the stock market. After what we have seen in the past decade, do we really want Bear Stearns, AIG or Bernie Madoff getting their hands on our Social Security?
Gingrich -- who once said he hoped Medicare would "wither on the vine" -- also supports a voucher program through private health insurance providers. The last time these companies got a piece of Medicare, courtesy of George W. Bush in 2003, it resulted in what the New York Times called, "a financial windfall larger than even the most optimistic Wall Street analysts had predicted."
America is getting older. The 2010 Census showed that the over 65 population grew by 15.1 percent, versus 9.7 percent for all ages. The 2012 elections will be the first in American history in which the majority of the voting age population is over 45. These demographic changes not only make Social Security and Medicare more important than ever, but they also give older workers and retirees more political clout.
But this increased political voice makes retirees a tempting target for election-year lies and scare tactics. We have already seen benign-sounding groups, such as RetireSafe and 60 Plus Association, that echo industry talking points in high-dollar advertising campaigns that mislead seniors.
The 2010 Affordable Care Act has been a particular target, despite the fact that it has helped over 2.65 million retirees save an average of $569 per year on their prescription drugs. These shameful efforts to scare seniors carry on the legacy started by Sarah Palin's baseless warnings about "death panels."
So what should seniors do between now and November? The most important thing will be to start separating fact from fiction in election year rhetoric. Retirees must reach out to their neighbors to help them better understand the issues and where the candidates stand. It's also important that they educate their children and grandchildren. It's truly time to bring people of all ages together to help save the American dream of a safe and secure retirement when our working days are done.
Social Security and Medicare are two great American success stories. Before, too many people worked until the day they died or lived out their final years in pain and poverty. Our nation has come a long way, and in the 2012 elections we cannot turn back.
Alliance for Retired Americans
Barbara J. Easterling
Barbara J. Easterling is President of the Allianc for Retired Americans.
She was previously the Secretary-Treasurer of the Communications Workers of America.
For more information, visit www.retiredamericans.org or call 1-800-333-7212.
Medicare Reaches Middle Age
by Barbara J. Easterling
Medicare turns 47 on July 30, reaching a crossroads familiar to middle age: a proud record of success, but also an uncertain future.
Think about life before Medicare. Many older Americans were living in terrible health, unable to afford to see a doctor or fill a prescription. Now, the senior poverty rate is 75 percent lower than before Medicare became law. More recently, the Affordable Care Act has added new Medicare benefits and strengthened its long-term finances through lower prescription drug costs, free preventive tests and screenings, and an end to wasteful taxpayer subsidies to the big insurance companies.
Medicare -- along with Medicaid and Social Security -- has made life better for generations of retirees, but if the wrong candidates win this November, this could all become a thing of the past. Mitt Romney and congressional Republicans want to reduce benefits, raise the eligibility age, and push seniors toward buying health coverage in the costly, unfair private insurance market.
To stop these dangerous plans, the Alliance for Retired Americans is this week launching a national grassroots campaign, Let's Not be the Last Generation to Retire. We've named it that because, as I travel the country, that is the one thing I hear over and over from seniors. They worry about their children and grandchildren. They worry that Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security won't be there for them. They do not want to be the last generation to retire.
Over the next few weeks we will hold birthday celebrations in local communities; sponsor educational briefings at senior centers; and organize protests outside offices of lawmakers who have voted against the needs of local retirees. Our goal is to educate seniors on the issues and the candidates in the 2012 elections and to clear up the misinformation being spread by big corporations and TV commentators.
Please join us at an event near you to help make sure that today's retirees are not the last generation to retire.
We Must Educate Younger People About Unions
by Barbara J. Easterling
As we near Labor Day, I want to encourage you to help younger generations better understand why labor unions are so important. Too many people either know very little about unions, or only know what politicians and Fox News tell them.
I joined a union on my very first day on the job as a telephone operator in Akron, Ohio. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. Our generation – and those who came before us – used our rights at work and in the community to create good jobs and good wages. We helped build strong neighborhoods where you could raise a family.
In my experience, a union is the only way workers can earn good pay and be treated with respect and fairness on the job. It’s just too tough any other way. When you look at the powerful interests that workers are up against – whether it is right-wing politicians or cold-hearted corporations – you see how badly the deck is stacked against you if you don’t have a union.
As union retiree, you can speak firsthand how collective bargaining helps earn the wages and benefits that support families and build strong, stable communities. Collective bargaining directly affects retirement – the better you work, the better you retire. I worry that decades of low wages, little or no health insurance, and inadequate savings are sowing the seeds for a serious retirement security crisis that will affect everyone in our country.
While some politicians mock unions as a cheap way to score political points, we all know the truth – collective bargaining is a backbone of the American middle class. We have a lot to be proud of – so let’s get out there and spread the word!