Statistics Refute Portrayal of Retirees as Needy, Ailing

July 7, 2008 - 7:02 PM

( - Despite Democratic attempts to depict the dire circumstances of retirees and the necessity of maintaining the status quo with Social Security and Medicare, the majority may not even need the benefits to the extent they once did, according to government research figures.

In fact, Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore's intention to keep the taxpayer-funded retirement account solvent may be the worst scenario for young Americans, one policy analyst said.

"Bush's plan [to privatize portions of Social Security] is a step in the right direction," said Dorman Cordell, a senior scholar with the National Center for Policy Analysis. "If we don't do that, basically what we're doing is pushing this problem back so that it falls on my grandchildren."

The "pay-as-you-go" system of Social Security, whereby today's employees provide for the current retirees, is unfair and detrimental to the future of America's workers, Cordell said. It only benefits those born before World War II, and, he continued, those who argue otherwise are misinformed.

"I don't understand why people are just not willing to believe ... that today's young people, those born after World War II, are not going to get much back," Cordell said. "The system shouldn't work that way. There's no reason why a young person who works today should have to pay an income to fund those already retired."

Some of those retirees, according to government records and statistics, may not even need the full benefits Gore has been promising to save during his presidential campaign stops.

The Federal Interagency Forum on Aging reports that while the "number of older people in the U.S. has increased ten-fold since 1900," to include 13 percent of the population, today's retirees are better educated, and that "positively influences [their] socioeconomic status and health" and makes them less prone to poverty.

"In 1998, 11 percent of older Americans had incomes below the poverty threshold, compared to 35 percent in 1959," according to the Forum on Aging statistics.

Census Bureau statistics also indicated poverty levels among the elderly have decreased consistently throughout the years. In 1970, for instance, 24.6 percent of senior-aged Americans lived in poverty compared to 12.9 percent in 1992.

While median income levels more than doubled for retirees in the years between 1957 and 1992, health problems among the age group decreased, the Census Bureau report continued.

"Poor health is not as prevalent [in the elderly] as many assume, especially among the younger elderly," according to the Census Bureau. "Among non-institutionalized persons in 1992, 75 percent of those age 65 to 74 consider their health to be good, very good, or excellent as do 67 percent of those age 75 and over."

Both federal agencies stressed, however, that the elderly still needed government assistance with Social Security and Medicare issues because some have yet to feel the positive effects of the health and financial gains reported for that population group the past few decades.

"There is a cultural mindset that the government should provide for the elderly," said Michael Shields, spokesman for former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and the president of, an Internet-based Social Security information site. "But the need is declining, and people are learning to be more self-sufficient.

"I would certainly not want to say seniors don't need it," Shields continued, "but certainly, the program was never designed to be a source of primary income ... and I fully believe Bush's plan is the only one that takes up the issue of solvency."

Conversely, Gore's plan "pushes off the problem until 2035," Shields said.