En español | I have been greatly disturbed by the increasing number of articles promoting the myth that older Americans are committing "generational theft" in plain sight. This further perpetuates the notion that our society either cannot afford or cannot find a way to "promote the general welfare" of all its citizens. In this view, the old and the young are at war over limited resources — someone must win and someone must lose. This is not only insulting, it is pure folly and very dangerous.
We are not surprised that this argument is reemerging as Congress and the president wrestle with huge federal deficits, the budget and the future of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. We've seen it before, and each time the charges become more outrageous — from a generation gap to generational conflict, generational warfare and now generational theft.
While we are not surprised by these arguments, they must come as quite a shock to:
- The 7 million children living with grandparents.
- The 42 million Americans who are informal caregivers, most of whom take care of older family members.
- The 7 million children who live in households that depend on Social Security to support the family.
- The 5 million widows and widowers and 2 million children whose parents have died and who rely on Social Security survivors' benefits.
- The 6.5 million people 50-plus who have told us they are concerned that Social Security and Medicare will not be there for their kids and grandkids.
- The tens of millions of 50-plus Americans who, through their tax dollars and voluntary contributions, support our public schools, children's health programs and grandparent guardianship programs.
- The older adults in AARP Experience Corps who serve as mentors and role models to young students across the country, helping kids boost their academic performance while enriching their own lives as volunteers.
In the real world, families prosper together. And we struggle together. The high cost of health care hurts everyone. The Great Recession hurt everyone. We need to focus on helping people of all ages attain long-term health and financial security and live their best lives, not argue over who is hurt or helped more. That doesn't solve the problems we face as a society; it only promotes conflict and encourages antagonism.
As Washington politicians debate how best to deal with our economic woes, slow the rising costs of health care and chart the future course of Social Security and Medicare, they should consider how policy proposals affect people along the lifespan continuum, not in terms of generational winners and losers.
For example, the proposed alternative for calculating Social Security cost-of-living adjustments — the chained CPI — reduces the increases over time. The impact of this change compounds as a person gets older, so it could have a devastating effect on older beneficiaries, and also on younger beneficiaries as they get older. In short, it's a bad deal for all.
We totally reject the notion that the generations are at war. We're better than that. Our challenge is to meet the needs of all generations at all ages.
A. Barry Rand is the CEO of AARP.