Our daughter, Lolly, shocked me a couple of weeks ago. I was telling her about the woman I tutor in English and citizenship preparation. I mentioned that it’s important for legal immigrants to get their citizenship before reaching age 65 because, no matter how long they’ve worked in our country, they will only receive Social Security benefits for seven years—the amount of time actuaries tell us most people have received back what they’ve paid in.
Lolly exploded that SS is unsustainable now and my efforts to help another working citizen qualify for eventual benefits is irresponsible. Her family’s taxes are already too high. They can’t afford to support more SS recipients.
Knowing that I have now reached my seven-year mark and am a drag on the US economy, I clicked off my phone, resolved to practice the ancient Eskimo strategy of leaving the unproductive elderly out in the cold to die of exposure. I sat on our deck to await the end, but since it was only 40 degrees, I soon realized I would likely have to go several days without food and water before nature took its course. I wasn’t up for that kind of sacrifice, so I came in and soothed myself with a piece of chocolate.
Lolly called the next day and apologized for her tirade, but this conversation left me wondering about her and other young Mormons who oppose compassionate treatment for unfortunates not covered by Church Welfare. I suspect that Lolly, normally a generous, compassionate person, is motivated by fear. A middle-class living standard is hard to manage these days. Even though Lolly’s husband, Doc, has a far better job than either her dad or I had, they are not homeowners. Doc’s job is on a year-to-year contract. Housing prices in their area have dropped from the bubble, but could fall farther if their mining-industry economy collapses.
Despite hard work and careful management, Doc and Lolly, like many young American couples, cannot depend on continued employment and benefits or even that they can invest their savings in a secure place. They fear for their future and their children’s future. They need someone to blame. The easiest targets are immigrants, legal as well as illegal, and the poor.
Useless senior citizens like myself are part of the problem. But I still wonder why more of the angst about the economy is not directed at those who are prospering while most Americans are tightening their belts. How does the health insurance industry justify raising rates, in many cases 40 or 50%, when their profits are at record highs? And has anyone looked at the compensation packages for CEOs of nonprofits? Plenty of angst has been directed at the TARP bailout for the financial industry, but no criminal investigation has been launched against the persons responsible for the debacle.
Public employees have been criticized for their pension benefits, and in many cases, states do need to re-negotiate. Still, if public officials need to cut expenses, shouldn’t they set the example by trimming their own salaries and benefits before asking sacrifices of lesser paid state employees?
Fear is a healthy, protective strategy when it’s directed at the right target. I have a feeling that the American people are being manipulated into directing their justifiable anger towards other victims rather than to the special interests and government officials of both parties who do their bidding.