In Armageddon, Bruce Willis blows himself up on an asteroid to save his daughter and all of humanity. (Sorry for the spoiler, but the movie is 25 years old.) That theme—parents providing for, and sacrificing for, their children—is the deeply moral and moving story that Americans used to love.
I say “used to,” because something troubling has happened. We now accept that young people should be worse off for a lifetime in order to benefit those who have already lived full, comfortable lives. We saw this during COVID-19, when an elderly leadership class locked children out of classrooms, playgrounds, friendships, and sports, and wiped out jobs, training, and mentorship for young workers.
COVID may be over (though San Francisco is still masking kids), but the abuse is ongoing. It hides under the cloak of a tedious subject: old-age benefits.
In a telling moment during President Biden’s State of the Union address in February, both sides of the aisle whooped and hollered for Social Security and Medicare, prompting Biden to conclude that everyone agreed that the programs are “off the books”—whatever that means. The entire gallery cheered his promise not to make cuts to either program.
There’s nothing to cheer about.
Social Security taxes workers to pay retirement benefits to seniors 67 and older. In 2022, we spent $1.2 trillion on a senior population of 49 million and another $9 million on disabled workers. (Lest the word “trillion” sound trite, if you go back 1 trillion seconds, you’d be in 30,000 B.C.) The program currently runs in the red and will run out of money in roughly 10 years, at which point the average retiree will face an approximate $5,000 annual cut in benefits.
Medicare provides health insurance for people aged 65 and older. In 2022, the United States spent $767 billion on the program, which covers around 80 million elderly and disabled people. Medicare will be insolvent in 2028.
We’ve long seen this coming, given our low birth rate, longer life spans, and longer retirements, not to mention the anemic returns on money paid into the system. We’ve also known that letting the Social Security disaster culminate in payment reductions isn’t politically viable because older Americans don’t have sufficient retirement savings. Baby Boomers started saving later in life than previous generations, despite living longer and retiring earlier, and they have made poor personal decisions (rampant obesity, divorce, drug use), thus enlarging avoidable costs. And they voted for President Biden and his ruinous policies that have shrunk retirement savings plans by $4 trillion in value since January 2021, according to the Committee to Unleash Prosperity.
Boomers feel as though old-age benefits are “theirs”—money they individually saved within the government program—but that’s not the case. Most seniors will reap tens of thousands more dollars in payouts than they put in.
The plan from the Left? More old-age benefits, causing Social Security to make forced cuts two years earlier. And despite blithe claims that “the rich” will fund this expansion, the rich could not possibly cover the shortfall even if they are taxed at a 100 percent rate.
That means that Gen X, Millennial, and Gen Z’ers—and our babies, and their babies—will shoulder a heavy tax load to pay the interest on this enormous borrowing.
Public opinion polls bizarrely suggest that Americans are fine with all this. “Please, take my money!” we effectively say, in the apparent hope of avoiding having to care for our elderly parents, as human beings have done since the beginning of time.
But in our eagerness to impoverish ourselves, we forget that a dollar spent on old-age benefits is a dollar that could have been invested elsewhere.
So the next time you long for safer and faster transportation, cures for children’s diseases, reliable energy infrastructure, scientific advancement, discounted childcare, a more agile military, cleaner air and water, bigger classrooms, or safer cities—too bad. The Boomers took the money for that.
As politicians continue to dance around this issue, making the problem more expensive by the second, I just have one small request.
I don’t need anyone to blow themselves up on an asteroid for me. I just want them to stop acting like there is anything to celebrate about passing spiraling costs on to younger Americans.
By finally treating endless deficit spending as immoral, not a gratifying political game to lure senior votes, Congress could perhaps begin to make the hard decisions on which our nation’s future depends.
May Mailman is a senior fellow at Independent Women’s Law Center.