It is hell to grow old in America, if you haven’t had the good fortune to plan ahead. Many Americans dream of retiring to a place where the weather is always pleasant, and Florida has long taken advantage of offering its natural resources, predominately the sunshine, as cheaply as possible. Cheap doesn’t always get the job done.
The truth is many of us have no idea what retirement will look like. To keep up with everyday living, we are working longer and will be working longer for the foreseeable future. This isn’t a clear choice. It’s more of a result of a loss of pension plans, fewer jobs with benefits, and reduced savings. Just imagine where many would be if social security didn’t exist.
Let me use my own father as an example, a man that worked every day of his life since he was fourteen, and retired on social security and with the help of family. We were not poor, but working class on a fixed income, and somehow made it through. My father managed to pay off his house in his 60’s and was proud of it. By the time he was 70, he supplemented his income with what has become Florida’s real retirement plan, which is to work as a security guard at a gated community and do a little ministering on the weekend. When he had a heart attack, his benefits were what was available through medicaid and an hour long drive to a VA clinic. Of course by that time he couldn’t drive and had a taxi take him. That’s another thing. Unless you drive until you die, good luck on living in communities that are sprawled away from each other.
This is not the kind of freedom Americans should be proud of. People in other advanced countries live longer, are more active, and enjoy a higher quality of life. Even in China, our greatest economic competitor, respecting one’s elders is extensive. Here, getting old is looking more and more like you are own your own, and you better be able to drive.
One thing we can do is increase the capability for loved ones to take care of their elderly. There is not a family in American that doesn’t worry about where to park Grandma Gladys. Most nursing homes are falling into two categories now: either too expensive or too dangerous.
Why not do more to help families keep grandma at home?
Nowadays, both parents need to be working to keep up, so the only way this can be done is to offset the costs and pay the family a comparable salary. It’s better for the elderly and better for families. With the aging of the population, we can’t keep up in building senior facilities anyway, and we’ve proved we have no stomach to regulate them. Put money directly into families instead of corporate headquarters in other states; a national plan to help support independent living and working families. That’s what other nations do. The increasing anxiety over growing old without many choices on what to do means we can do better.
Daniel Parker is an author, educator, and public servant. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org