The Washington Post editorial board wants to cut Medicare and Social Security. That has been its consistent position as long as I can remember. And what it advocates, always, are cuts in benefits, not costs — that is, while it may give lip service to efforts to control health-care costs (which seem to be going surprisingly well, in one of the untold success stories of Obamacare), what it has pushed repeatedly are things like a rise in the Medicare age. These are the kind of moves that are considered serious inside the Beltway. And as you might imagine, the Post has gone wild over recent suggestions that Social Security should be expanded, not cut.
But perceived seriousness is not the same as actual seriousness, which depends on the facts. We now know that raising the Medicare age is a truly terrible idea, which would create a lot of hardship while making next to no dent in the budget deficit. And the central premise of the latest editorial — that the elderly are doing fine — just isn’t true.
The Post writes:
The bill’s authors warn of a looming “retirement crisis” because of low savings rates and disappearing private-sector pensions. In fact, the poverty rate among the elderly is 9.1 percent, lower than the national rate of 15 percent — and much lower than the 21.8 percent rate among children.
This suggests that Social Security is doing a good job of fighting poverty as is and that those gains could be preserved in any attempt to trim the program.Guys, you have to keep up here. It’s well-known that the official poverty measure is quite flawed, for a variety of reasons — and it’s especially flawed when it comes to the elderly, who — even with Medicare — tend to have a lot of medical expenses and in other ways aren’t as well off as the official numbers suggest. The Census Supplemental Poverty Measure puts senior poverty at 14.8 percent, only slightly lower than the rate for younger adults.
And some of today’s seniors are still benefiting from traditional defined-benefit retirement plans. In the future, income other than from Social Security will depend almost entirely on defined-contribution plans — basically 401(k)s. And 401(k)s are basically an experiment that failed, except for the already affluent.
Maybe you don’t believe that the failure of defined-contribution plans is a reason to expand the one major defined-benefit plan we have, aka Social Security. But don’t make that argument by claiming that all is well with America’s seniors. The geezers are not alright.