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Rebuilding the Middle Class: A Blueprint for the Future

AARP CEO A. Barry Rand offers a plan for financial security

In fact, according to a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Americans 60 and older still owe roughly $36 billion in student loans, and more than 10 percent are delinquent.

And, increasingly — older adults are postponing retirement in order to pay off student loan debt accumulated by their children or grandchildren.

None of this paints a pretty picture. Unless we figure out a way to reverse the downward spiral of the middle class, the probability of the next generation being worse off than their parents is very high. We cannot allow that to happen.

So, what do we do?  How do we rebuild the middle class to once again ensure that everyone has the opportunity to achieve the American Dream?

The first thing we have to do is to broaden the current debate in Washington from the narrow lens of “deficit reduction” toward the larger goal of economic growth and maintaining the health and economic security of all Americans.

There is no question that reducing the federal deficit is a worthwhile goal.  Who would argue with that?

We need to address our nation’s long-term fiscal problems. They affect all of us — and most importantly, our children and grandchildren.

Their futures will not be very bright if they are drowning in the red ink of budget deficits and a soaring national debt.

However, their futures will not be very bright if they can’t afford health care, or if they can’t afford a quality education, or if they don’t have the opportunity to attain long-term financial security.

Leaving them with less economic security — by weakening Social Security and Medicare — would be just as bad, if not worse.

And, if we weaken Social Security and Medicare to the point that their parents and grandparents can no longer live with dignity and purpose, we will be risking their futures as well.

As a nation, we must broaden our focus. The goal should be improved economic growth for the nation, and policies that secure the health and economic security of both current and future generations.

Washington’s budget debate has been focused on big numbers, but it’s really about people and their futures.  A budget is not an end in itself.  It is simply a reflection of our nation’s priorities and goals.

We cannot make budget choices without considering the consequences of those choices on people.  Solving the budget deficit by cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits will leave too many people with nothing left at the end of the month.

Decreasing the federal deficit — at the expense of Medicare and Social Security — also ignores the public’s overwhelming support for these programs — as well as the vitally important role they play and will continue to play — in helping people attain a secure retirement.

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