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Get ready to live long, but die poor

| Tuesday, September 8, 2015

We millennials have it good.

By the time a man born in the early 1990s reaches the current full retirement age of 67, he can expect to live another 20 years to the age of 87. Women have it even better — females born at the same time can expect to live another 22 years to the ripe age of 89. This remarkable achievement in human longevity is the culmination of centuries of incredible medical, social and economic advances, and such an amazing feat rightfully deserves to be commended in the loudest way possible. As a point of comparison, in 1940, those same numbers told us men could only expect to live for 13 years after that retirement age, to 80, while women could expect another 15 years of life, to 82.

Such a large, positive change in something as important as life expectancy must be embraced, but it must also be understood. People are living much longer today than they ever have before, but our current entitlement system remains nearly indistinguishable from its original 1930s form. This problem is known as the dreaded “third rail” of American politics — any politician who attempts to talk about entitlement issues seems to be ostracized from the public debate.

There can be no denying that a social safety net must exist for seniors in need, and that both Social Security and Medicare have helped seniors in countless ways since their inception. Nevertheless, it is a fact that Medicare is set to be insolvent by 2026 and Social Security by 2033. It is also a fact that just three workers support every eligible retiree today, compared to the sixteen that existed when Social Security was first created.

Now, as we face a national debt of more than $18 trillion, the only candidate who has put forth a serious attempt at entitlement reform, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, sits tied for tenth in line for the Republican presidential nomination polling at only 2.8 percent.

Governor Christie’s proposal would transform Social Security into a means-tested program, meaning benefits would be gradually phased out for those who continue to make over $80,000 after they retire and would cut them entirely for those who make $200,000 or more after they retire. A similar sliding scale would be put into place for Medicare, and the retirement age would be raised to 69 for Social Security and 67 for Medicare. Furthermore, none of this would take place until 2022 and it would not be completed until 2040.

While this may not be the perfect plan, it at least starts a discussion on this increasingly important issue, and no other candidate has been bold enough to speak his or her mind past vague policy statements.

In 2014, entitlement spending alone made up 60 percent of the federal budget. Why has no progress been made in shrinking this number?

The answer is simpler than you think: senior citizens vote. Millennials do not.

In 2012, voter turnout for eligible citizens under the age of 30 was just 45 percent. For those over 30, it was 66 percent. Even with such small numbers, we made a difference. If no voters under the age of 30 had shown up to the polls in 2012, Mitt Romney would be the President of the United States. Imagine if young people united together in bigger numbers and for a cause upon which we can all agree: our economic security for us and our children after us.

Over the last ten years, the AARP has spent an average of $19.36 million on lobbying Congress every year. It currently has 38 million dues-paying members. While we may not have an “American Association of Young People,” we must all unite if we are to raise our children in a country as great as the one in which we were lucky enough to be raised. We must hold our representatives accountable for their actions and demand real solutions to tough problems. We cannot be bullied by special interest groups or by lying politicians who tell us that it is all going to be okay.

Above all, we must realize that every vote counts and that we can make a difference. We just have to go at it together.

Author’s note: Louis interned for Governor Christie’s office this summer.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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