Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Are the Golden Years Really Golden?

©2007 By LeeZard

Who coined the term “the Golden Years” to describe old age? I’m betting it wasn’t an older person. In fact, as we Baby Boomers enter our so-called “golden years,” I don’t even know what today’s politically correct term is. While I don’t yet dwell (too much) on my mortality, I am more aware of it than I was even five or ten years ago and, I am dealing with many other changes.

I was sitting with some folks last week and an extremely wise woman in the group opined, “You know, people don’t really write about what it’s like – what it really feels like – to get old.”

So I’m writing. Granted, my experience is limited but it is mounting quickly; I’m 60 years old, which I’m told is “the new 40.” What I can tell you is that it’s not all fun and games – certainly not “golden.” Don't get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I have a good life. But, let’s face it, the aging process forces us to make changes in what we do, how we live, how we get from here to there. In other cases, we are forced to deal with changes in how the world deals with us. Not only do we face physical changes and challenges; today, more than ever before, we face serious political challenges as well. Let’s start with the physical.

I won’t go into gory detail but the temple that is my body has some chinks in the masonry:
• three knee surgeries for torn cartilage (my running days are over);
• something going on in the front of my legs just below the knees (my walking days are sometimes painful);
• metabolism is slower, the pounds go on faster, come off slower;
• heart stent five years ago (family history and lifestyle conspire against me);
• when I don’t work-out, 200 pounds creeps closer – blood pressure goes up;
• my snoring sometimes wakes ME up;
• “Vitamin V” is a reality – better living through chemistry, indeed!

Those are just the physical changes – and I still consider myself relatively healthy! Doc says even with the stent, I have the heart of a 32 year old man.

When the AARP automatically sent me a membership card right before my 50th birthday I burned it. Today, I want it back. I want the discounts. More importantly, I want access to everything they have.

Oh yes, there are changes. I’m going to more retirement parties and fewer weddings. Colonoscopies, nuclear treadmills and grandchildren are part of the dinner conversation instead of sex & drugs & Rock & Roll. How does it all feel? Scary, exciting, challenging, humbling. But, it still beats the alternative. Everyday above ground is a victory.

Now, let’s consider the political and, luckily, I am not alone. As a Baby Boomer, the demographic bulge nearly matches the bulge at my waistline; we are all growing older together. I am guessing our political awareness and activism (not to mention the AARP) will help us carry the day but only if we remain aware and active.

In February 2008, Kathleen Casey-Kirschling will be the first Baby Boomer to begin collecting social security. Boomer claims will very quickly go from a trickle to a torrent. According to the latest “Newsweek,” Social Security, along with Medicare and other federal benefit programs, face a $45 TRILLION gap between claims and their projected revenue streams. That’s TRILLION, with a ‘T.”

Unfortunately, the Bush administration brings a narrow and partisan view to the debate over solutions. President Bush, and his party, embrace the idea of allowing workers to shift a portion of their payroll taxes to private accounts. As the Los Angeles Times editorializes, this proposal “is at best a solution in search of a problem. At worst, it would only exacerbate the looming shortfalls and impose the very sort of risks on retirees that the program was designed to avert. Social Security, after all, is insurance, not savings, as private accounts would be.”

Nancy Altman, author of "The Battle for Social Security: From FDR’s Vision to Bush’s Gamble," says real solutions are already out there, including one by Social Security commissioner Robert Ball. “Keep a residual estate tax, which would affect less than 1 percent of the wealthy—the Paris Hiltons—and dedicate it to Social Security,” she suggests. “Gradually lift the cap on Social Security payroll taxes, restoring it to the point where, as in the past, more of the highest-paid people in the nation are contributing their fair share and invest a portion of Social Security's trust funds in indexed stock market funds.”

So, Baby Boomers, here is our call to action. We must remain politically active to:
• beat back the Bush Administration’s siege on our social services system;
• force the policymakers to control skyrocketing prescription costs – not to mention the country’s out-of-control health care system and,
• we must maintain constant vigilance against ageism in the workplace – in life.

That’s certainly enough to keep me busy through my “Golden Years.”