Need to Know, January 27, 2012: Florida, seniors and entitlements

Jeff Greenfield

As the Republican presidential candidates head there, anchor Jeff Greenfield travels to Florida to look at the political power of the state’s large senior population, which votes in proportionally greater numbers than any other group. That’s especially relevant this year with talk of Social Security and Medicare reform — reforms that are strongly opposed by many senior groups. It poses a problem for candidates promoting entitlement reform that would reduce the national debt: how to pare the benefits without alienating a key voting block in one of the nation’s most politically important states?

Watch the individual segments:

How seniors see it

As we enter the Florida primary, Republicans are walking a fine line between calling for entitlement reform and winning over seniors, one of the state’s most powerful voting blocs.

Why is Florida so competitive?

Jeff Greenfield speaks with Professor Susan MacManus of the University of South Florida about Florida’s electorate.

American Voices: Jon Meacham

In an essay, Jon Meacham discusses our obligations, as a society, to the elderly.

Watch more full episodes of Need to Know.

 

Comments

  • jan

    I guess it depends on the society you want to build.  Do you want a society that allows the elderly to have a little bit of dignity after they’re no longer productive or do you want to put them down on the balance sheet as a loss and work to get them off the balance sheet as quickly as possible? 

    What you see as paring down can be disaster for the elderly.  If social security is all you have (in an economy that prizes itself on being lean, mean, and cutting wages and benefits that shouldn’t be surprising) you’re not going to be able to save much if anything for old age.  Its not unusual for children to live in a state other than the state their children live in.  Do we dismantle the various systems/devices that were built to protect the elderly or do we just throw them to the thieves? 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1790724191 Victoria Lamb

    It should be entertaining to see them try to avoid discussing in detail their plans to “reform” Social Security and Medicare with a group of seniors. It’s been the older attendees who have been most prepared in other town halls on this topic, as well as the most courageous in confronting Republican BS. There is nothing these evil clowns can do or say that won’t expose them as charlatans. Nor, with the cameras rolling and national coverage on air throughout the following inevitable, can they afford to insult or blatantly lie to older voters OR have them thrown out as has happened in the past. Karma.

  • Anonymous

    so you enjoy taking the money back from your kids that you gave to them?

  • Anonymous

    What a horribly biased program. One of the reasons I have stopped giving money to PBS. While early in the program they did mention that the percentage of the federal government budget going to this program they left out some very key problems. Like how long current those receiving benefits can get “their” money back. When the program started folks drew benefits for about 3 years or so. It takes a whole bunch of tax dollars, more than some contributed, to keep giving seniors a check for 10 or more years. What has been lost is a sense that an individual is responsible in some measure to where they are at. This concept of individual responsibility has been replaced by a sense of entitlement. What the US government is doing in no small measure is financing values that AARP and others are advancing entitlement. What they are taxing is work and investment. As any freshman college student can tell you government can use fiscal policy to encourage behavior. The sad part here is that the federal government is following a policy which will necessarily cause the country that we leave to our children and grand children in a worse state than our parents left it to us. Any but for the values of self reliance and work it could be.

  • Rjbaillie

    It is a tragedy that this program did not start with an outline of basic facts about Social Security and Medicare.

    The facts are these: Even if Congress does nothing, there is enough money in the Social Security trust fund to pay all benefits through 2037; after that, there will be enough money coming in from workers to pay at least 75% of the benefits.  Furthermore, even that shortfall can easily be eliminated if we  “scrap the cap”: currently, the wealthy pay Social Security tax on only about the first $110,000 of their income; no income above that is taxed for Social Security.  So, the wealthy pay a lower Social Security tax rate than the rest of us.  Mitt Romney pays no Social Security tax at all on his millions of investment income.  Scrapping the cap would not only make the tax fairer, but would make Social Security solvent, indefinitely.  This information comes from the annual Social Security Trustees reports, which you can obtain here: http://www.ssa.gov/oact/tr/

    As for Medicare, there is a bigger problem.  But this problem is due to the fact that all health care in the U.S. is ridiculously expensive.  We must get a handle on overall health care costs.  Moreover, Medicare has far less bureaucratic overhead than the system that the rest of us must endure, where private insurance companies consume about 25% of our premiums on profits, advertising, and bureaucracy.

  • Groundhogjd

    I just wondered how we who have been covered by and paid into social security, a retirement plan, has anything to do with Gross Domestic Product (GDP)?  If what we have paid into the fund has been self-supporting for the past 75 years and will be for another 20 to 25, what difference does it make  how much the outlay for our benefit amounts are?  All the program needs is a tweek here and there.  Don’t our very Well Educated Congressmen know how to spell Tweek?  Entitlement my football, we paid in and we deserve the best, not scraps from our Congressional table. 

  • Groundhogjd

    Beg to disagree.  I am better off in retirement than my Mother and Father, who were also better off than their parents.  My three daughters have as much or more than I at their age, and so it goes.  If they are to be in any worse state, then it is our Congressmen who have seen fit to wage wars to keep their constituents at work in defense, and never-ending entitlements, thus a 15 Trillion debt, including 2.6 Trillion of our SS retirement funds.  Your argument for this spending is more jobs.  There must be better ways to aid full employment?  If Congress’  right pocket contains what we send in taxes and their left pocket what they spend, they are and have for many years leaned way left.  Social Security, although Supreme Court cases say different, should have always been kept separate, and all would be well with the world.

  • Groundhogjd

    There was lots of discussion in the Obamacare proceedings about just “putting old folks out to pasture”.  Has that surfaced again?

  • jan

    How do you feel about your parents and in-laws living with you for several years, Kansasplainsman? 

  • Charles Charles Hicelebanon

    I alway liked Jon Meacham and Charlie Rose. Great program on Florida. Seniors should take part in restructuring ss! There must be changes. I hope to watch more “Need to Know.”
    Hello World
    Charlie

  • Captain Augustus

    An excellent show in both content and Greenfield and Meacham.  Thank you for serious discussion of important topics…best of the week!  

  • Jerry

    If I understood Jon Meacham correctly he mentioned sustainability of SS and the need for senior to support and push change.  I hear very little talk about how much each of us has paid in to SS, what the accumulated interest would be and for how long we could draw on that amount.  Knowing the amount each year paid in while working and calculating an average interest rate, I will never zero out my account.  If my calculations are correct why should I promote or agree to take a smaller monthly SS payment?  To say that we are costing taxpayers big buck each year is absurd.  What did our elected officials do with the monies we paid in all those years?  It all obviously did not go into the trust.  Would like to see these items discussed in later Need to know sessions

  • http://whilewestillhavetime.blogspot.com/ John Hamilton

    Journalists should know better than most people that the language one uses exerts control over the conversation. In our political dialogue it is conventional wisdom to refer to Social Security and Medicare payments as “entitlements.” This is an emotionally loaded term, and is intentionally used by opponents of these programs as a pejorative. Just to be clear, pejorative means disparaging, belittling.

    An indication of the success of this linguistic trick is the almost universal use of the term “entitlements.” Such as on this investigative journalism show. The minions of “Need to Know” appear to be completely unaware of how their analysis has a built in bias.

    Social Security and Medicare benefits fall into the spending category known as transfer payments. They are transfers from one sector of the economy to another to serve some social goal. In the case of Social Security and Medicare, the payments are transfers from past contributions and current  National Income to retirees. I don’t look at these payments as “entitlements.” They are payments that the people as a whole have decided to make as a matter of sound social policy.

    The use of the term “entitlements” is an example of the degradation of our public dialogue. By debasing our language we debase our social order. Somehow this pretty obvious method of political chicanery has passed over the heads our our journalism commuity. This is a hint, at least, about how they are fair game for manipulation.

  • http://whilewestillhavetime.blogspot.com/ John Hamilton

    Journalists should know better than most people that the language one uses exerts control over the conversation. In our political dialogue it is conventional wisdom to refer to Social Security and Medicare payments as “entitlements.” This is an emotionally loaded term, and is intentionally used by opponents of these programs as a pejorative. Just to be clear, pejorative means disparaging, belittling.

    An indication of the success of this linguistic trick is the almost universal use of the term “entitlements.” Such as on this investigative journalism show. The minions of “Need to Know” appear to be completely unaware of how their analysis has a built in bias.

    Social Security and Medicare benefits fall into the spending category known as transfer payments. They are transfers from one sector of the economy to another to serve some social goal. In the case of Social Security and Medicare, the payments are transfers from past contributions and current  National Income to retirees. I don’t look at these payments as “entitlements.” They are payments that the people as a whole have decided to make as a matter of sound social policy.

    The use of the term “entitlements” is an example of the degradation of our public dialogue. By debasing our language we debase our social order. Somehow this pretty obvious method of political chicanery has passed over the heads of our journalism community. This is a hint, at least, about how they are fair game for manipulation. 

    An aspect of Social Security, Medicare and other payments that is completely ignored and misrepresented is the fact that these payments circulate through the economy in the form of consumer purchases, salaries for doctors, nurses, hospital staff, insurance payments and so on, generating further consumer spending, wages and salaries, and corporate profits. It is known as the multiplier effect. The way politicians of a certain “persuasion” talk about it, you would think that transfer payments go down some black hole of “entitlements.”

     Maybe in the future journalists could strive to be a little less duped by semantics. I’m sure some of our fine journalism schools, like Columbia, Northwestern, Missouri and others are aware of this vulnerability. Maybe they could include some attention to it in their curricula. They could start with the propaganda about “entitlements.”

  • Anonymous

    Maybe by including the word “entitlements” in the title of this, PBS intended to draw in viewers from all parts of the political spectrum.  I couldn’t help but notice that at the end of John Meacham’s piece, there was a tone of asking, possibly hinting that seniors might want to rethink their view of the situation.  The situation is that many seniors (not all) have loads of money, and many of those seniors are spending the money on luxuries, while their children and grandchildren might need to live very frugally in their senior years. 

  • Preston

    I’m 63 and retired. I’m currently getting neither SS nor Medicare. I was fortunate enough to get medical coverage from the company from which I retired.

    I paid into both SS and Medicare all my working life. Like many others, I feel this “entitles” (there’s that word again!) me to some benefits. The question is, “How much more than what I paid in should I expect to receive?” In order to answer this question, I searched for information on what the average retiree receives from SS and Medicare compared to what they paid in. Here’s what I found:

    The ratio of Medicare benefits received vs Medicare taxes paid ranges from a low of 3:1 for higher wage earners (they paid more taxes) to a high of just under 5:1 for low wage earners who, because of their lower wages, paid less in Medicare taxes.

    According to a story on NPR April 30, 2011, “Medicare’s Math Problem: Taxes – Benefits = Trouble”, http://www.npr.org/2011/04/30/135844222/medicares-math-problem-taxes-benefits-trouble

    “An average couple retiring today has paid just a little over $100,000 in Medicare taxes” over the course of their working lives, Steuerle tells Guy Raz, host of weekends on All Things Considered.

    And what do they receive?

    “About $300,000 in benefits” – even after adjusting for inflation.

    The person named “Steuerle” referred to above is Eugene Steuerle who, along with Adam Carasso, looked into the ratio of amount paid in vs. benefits received for both SS and Medicare. A short summary of their findings is that:

    a) Social Security: Low wage earners receive somewhat more than they paid in; High wage earners receive slightly LESS than what they paid in. The result is a slight negative imbalance that, as others have pointed out, could be remedied by small changes.

    b) Medicare: Low wage earners receive almost 5 times what they paid in; High wage earners receive about 3 times what they paid in.

    My position on this is:

    1. While I can make a case that it’s reasonable for me to expect to get something more than what I paid in (due to accumulated interest), I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect to get 3 times what I paid in.

    2. Even though it would possibly reduce my benefits, I think both SS and Medicare should be means tested. That is, if the amount in my piggy bank is big enough, my combined SS and Medicare benefits should be reduced. The bigger the amount in my piggy bank, the larger the reduction in benefits.

    3. I agree with a previous poster that the cap on SS wages should be eliminated. This is easy for me to say because it won’t affect me.

    The paper Steurle wrote can be found here: http://www.urban.org/publications/310667.html

    That paper is pretty much all I could find comparing payments to benefits. If anyone has additional sources, I’d sure like to see them. I’m a little nervous basing my understanding on a single source.

  • Anonymous

    I contributed over 50 years to Social Security and since Medicare came out. I figure that the 15% lower wages that the Rich consider not a tax aka entitlement, was over $400,000. Social Security is an “insurance program” not an entitlement. The Social Contract made to me when I was 18 was to make sure I did not eat dog food at age 65 and older. I fume inside when I hear the Millionare Cantor talk refers to Social Security as “Entitlement”. I contributed over 15% of my wages for 50 years.
    Now, people ignore the fact, that if you die, your spouse is covered but when she dies, and we both had not collected the “compounded 15% insurance investment” is put back in the pot for someone else. Another fact is that of the people age 65, 25% are dead. Just mortality numbers. So those 25% will never see a dime of what they put in, but, as a result there is more money available at less cost to the survivors over age 65.

    The 11 million Illegals in this country are draining Medicare and Medicaid. We have about 110,000 to 220,000 Illegals in our state. 4500 babies births were paid by Medicaid of Illegal Mothers living in our state. 8% of our K-12 Classrooms are Illegals costing $8000 each, with taxpayers picking up the cost, about $300,000,000 ($300 million) annually.
    I am learning Spanish and making progress, the other night, the wife and I had Spanish Speaking at 3 tables around us. The gist of the conversation was “how to get free benefits” like hospitalization, food stamps. The two,sitting scross were being “coached” on how to game our Social Safety net.
    I get extremely angry when I see trains coming weekly from Guatamala with 2500 people hanging on the outside weekly with only one goal ” to enter the USA Illegally”. Then the border towns who have 24 hour a day seven day a week kiosks with survival food, backpacks, water, shoes, clothing” for only one type of customer, those who are going to enter the USA illegally.
    We have about $250 million wired out of our state, mainly to Mexico, never to be circulated. I cannot imagine, what the 2.7 million Illegals are costing the state of California with our state having 110,000 Illegals costing us near a $Billion.

    We need to “cut off” Illegals from Medicaid and our Social Safety nets quick.

    I lost half my defined benefit Pension with “creative financing” and the Accounting rules change of 1981 as soon as Ronald Reagan became President allowing companies to “raid the deferred income” defined benefit pensions of $Trillions of dollars. Mitt Romney and others became very wealthy with schemes. How anyone can accept Bain Capital, after putting a Company in bankruptcy, making $100 million in Profit. Where do you think that $100 million came from?

    The Baby boomers lost 100,000 plans, over the last 30 years, wages have been flat, and the average 401K of a 65 year old is $55,000. They cannot retire but one other real fact, is that of the people that are still alive at age 65, half have a disabilty that prevents them from working full time.
    Today, our 401K’s are being fleeced every microsecond with High Speed Trading. They are skimming the profits with computers. Our health care is a disaster, 50 million without health insurance, and 900,000 families that declare Medical Bankruptcy every year for Medical Bills(Hospitals do Not write off bills until your assets are taken).

    We have a “Medical Services Monopoly” who are fixing prices for 7% annual Profit. Need an example, a Bayer Aspirin costs 11 cents at Walgreens,and $35 in a hospital.

    They got our Defined Benefit Pensions, they kept our wages flat, while the 1% had tax laws changed to benefit them with a 14% rate like Romney, putting people in the Poverty ranks with Medical Bankruptcy (no other country in the world allows Medical Bankruptcy for Medical Bills), baby boomers have no money, other than Social Security and Medicare.
    Now, Canter and the Republicans are after that. Cantor’s “Prosperty for America” is just another ploy to rob the American People.
     
    We are now a Plutocracy (a governement run by Money from Bribes and corruption).
    People are starting to figure out why. Just what is the solution?
    Egypt type riots? Start Over? I certainly hope not but Money blinds judgement.
    Seniors need to Not vote for anyone that uses the term Entitlement of Privatization.
    We have had that crap for over 30 years and see what the result is.
    Like the Babyboomers did during Vietnam, once they are motivated and realize they have been had systematically by some pretty clever thieves bribing our governent, the disgruntled Billionaires like the Koch Brothers might find their “game is up”.

    The Republicans better keep hands off of Social Security (funded well through 2034).

    We need to raise taxes on guys like Romney and the Koch Brothers and stop another scheme like Cantors’ that is only intended to take money from Seniors.

    Remember “downsizing and righsizing”, don’t hear that term much anymore (100,000 defined benefit plans were raided) and the only DB plans left are Military, Federal Employees, Unions and of course Congress. Ellen Schultz in her book “Retirement Heist” describes how we lost our pensions.

    http://www.retirementheist.com/

    Baby boomers cannot retire, they just did not have enough time to make up the loss and with the extended unemployment, they are “tapping into their 401K with a 10% penalty”. And recent college graduates about 25% of them cannot find a job as the Babyboomers are still working.

  • Anonymous

    I took responsibility, I paid 15% every year for 50 years in deferred income to Social Security. I also had deferred income (lower wages) that were put into a Defined Benefit Pension plan for me at age 65, over 30 years before I was “downsized”. I still have Social Security but half my projected pension was robbed by a CEO and his board of directors.The CEO was recognized as one of the 400 Richest In America, more wealth than 150 million, from his 9 years at my Company tooted by Wall Street as a “Self Made Man”. He was nothing more than  a ‘Clever Thief”. We lost about $49 Billion in our Pension plan to boost Profit (stock) of the Company thanks to the 1981 accounting rules change of Pension plans.

    At least I did not lose it all but I figure it just might buy a month of groceries in ten years. If it was not for Social Security, I would be living in a tent.

    If we are naive to think, this was “an act of God”, think again. God had nothing to do with it. We were duped by some pretty clever thieves who became very Rich like Romney.

    Unfortunately, I did not have the knowledge or the resources to stop the theft of my pension. I was stupid but I always thought there were laws in place to prevent that from happening. I was wrong, but I am wiser now and have done enough reading and research to conclude, I had forces working against me that took my money and the people we elected starting in 1981 made it happen and did nothing to stop it.

    http://www.retirementheist.com/

  • http://twitter.com/eatingdollar amanda more

    Math can often rear its ugly head.  Journalists enjoy it as much as an Everglades Burmese Python.  If you spend money on jobs then those people pay taxes.  Without that with a sick economy then nothin’ is happenin’  So the weird distorted view that we must impoverish ourselves further while the rich get richer to provide a healthier place doesn’t make sense.My friends are all ages.  We hang out in a Paneras in wealthy Winter Park.  I heard the N word a few weeks ago and used in a way that was used 50 or a 150 years ago. Racism gets worse in hard times oddly enough further handing over even more cash to the wealthy.  It must make people feel more comfortable especially those heavy voting seniors who can’t overcome their bigotry.  I live in Orlando so I am used to politics not making sense.

  • J.V. Hodgson

    Lets start this off with dirty words : Single payer health care
    Lets say the cost of that is split 50 % employer and employee at a rate of 2% each on up 22k to 35K and 3%each up to 50k k and over 100K 5% each and it includes Bonus income, whether paid in cash or shares at market value day of issue.
    The 35M uninsured the government funds at $ 8,000 each = 280Bn pa.
    Then take all the Budget health care costs and divide by the Remainng population number. That give an annual cost per patient.
    Then match that with income levels by contributions from income and by employees and same % contributions by employer to generate the needed budget amount per capita.less the 35m per capita who cannot afford or not earning minimum wage.
    Step 2 is get to grips with costs
    1) Hospital room/ bed charges or ward bed charges fixed and incremental only by inflation ICU and special wards ( geriatrics, hear,t brain surgery after care beds etc) agree the price.
    2) The Nationally fixed price for those operations ( eg appendectomy ) occurring most frequently
    3) Nationally fixed prices at hospitals and pharamcies for medications based on the lowest retail price in any global market.For low income families make a fixed charge apply for all medications needed.
    2/3 above will reduce medical care costs substantially but not the quality of care as profit is included, an no donut hole.
    4) key is an NHI number just like social security whic recoeds key basic facts of you medical history
    Like blood group, cholesterol levels, BP latest and allergies, previous childhood ailments measles etc, childhood vaccinations and if you are currently diabetic, under treatement for cancer , obesity, or Psychotic diseases.
    This is in a national database accessible to your chosen doctor at any point in time… security aspects need resolving.
    Then watch US health care again lead the world by any measure. The above just the basics.
    Regards,
    Hodgson    
        

  • karch

    Greenfield took all of the Republican talking points for the past 30 years for why to get rid of SS.  Back in the 80′s SS was almost doubled to take care of the big influx of people who are now starting to feed into the system and that is what the huge 2.7 billion dollar surplus was designed for.  To maintain it into the future for 50 years simply remove the cap on income that is taxed and it magically disappears.  It is not an entitlement any more than your life insurance or unemployment insurance is.  Quite using loaded terms that make it sound like it is like food stamps.  Also, no means testing as we know that would be subject to continuing to alter it and, of course, cut it out altogether if a budget got tight.  The press needs to be more informed and quit playing along with the GOP word war.

  • Boomsday

    I would like to thank the Need to Know Team for putting together such an interesting episode. One point I thought was rather unnecessary was Jon Meacham’s discussion of our obligations to the elderly. According to his story, he had several great experiences with elderly relatives to whom he feels indebted. I don’t see how this justifies a social security system. If Jon Meacham feels indebted to his senior relatives, he is free to pay them back in any way he chooses too. It is not necessary to incur the costs of a highly inefficient entitlement system which funnels wealth from the young to the old. Given that the political influence of the elderly is growing, the balance of power will probably shift even further in favor of those who are at the receiving end of this so called ponzi scheme. 

    I understand that today’s senior have paid into social security for several decades. Although this might sound a lot, one has to compare the contributions with the entitlement payments. And given that today’s seniors retire earlier, live longer, and require more and better healthcare, it should be not surprise, that, on average, those contributions (including the earned return) do not cover the entitlements that a senior receives.

    In my opinion, the issue with entitlements for senior citizens is likely to be a test of the boundaries of a democratic society made up of self interested “rent-seekers”. 

    FYI:I am a 28 year old male PhD Candidate in Business