Friday, July 12, 2013

Dental Work

I had a busy -- for me -- day yesterday: an exercise class in the morning, then a visit to the dentist in the afternoon and finally a meeting of the Wyrdsmiths writing group in the evening. The exercise class was enjoyable, and the Wyrdsmiths were really fine. But the dentist told me I need two crowns. My share, after my dental insurance pays its part, will be $2,100. This is disturbing.

I'm retired, which means very little money is coming in. I do have some retirement savings, but interest rates are so low right now that they generate almost no income. Certificates of deposit pay under one percent. That's less than inflation. I am actually losing money on my savings.

People my age are advised to stay out of the stock market, because we don't have the time to ride out ups and downs. We might need our money at a point that the market is low. In addition, I think the stock market is a bubble right now. Europe and the US are in recessions/depressions, and the gigantic Chinese economy is slowing down. There is no good reason for stocks to be up, except that the rich need a place to put their money. A bubble market is going to crash sooner or later.

In any case, my savings (such as they are) are producing almost no revenue. I have a small amount of money coming in from writing, but it isn't much. So I am looking at a large outlay when there in no compensating income. It is not a pleasant experience.

I do have the money to pay for the dental work. Many retired people have no savings. Company pension plans have mostly vanished, except for public employees, which is one reason the rightwing hates public employees. 401(k) plans and IRAs have not worked. Most people have not been able to save enough to matter. According to the blog Zero Hedge, the average amount in retirement accounts in 2012 was $77,300. This is not enough to pay for a retirement. Even with Medicare, one illness can wipe this out. Large numbers of American workers don't make enough to save anything, and many save very little -- or have to withdraw from their 401(k)s to pay for emergencies such as unemployment or illness.

So retirees are dependent on Social Security, which averages about $1,200 a month. Congress and the president keep trying to find ways to cut this inadequate amount. Imagine if I did not have savings. The dental work would be equal to two months income.

Social Security payments need to go up, not down; and Medicare should cover dental work; and Medicare should be extended to the entire population. There are various ways to pay for higher SS payments. Right now the SS tax (FICA) is capped at $106,800. Income above that is not taxed. Removing the cap would bring in extra money. (Remember that a huge amount of our national income goes to people making more than $100,000.) Or the FICA tax rate could be slightly increased, which would also bring in more money. Or increased Social Security payments could be funded out of general revenues.

Increasing Social Security would put more money into the economy and thus increase tax revenues. Expanding Medicare would mean that money now spent in our bloated and overpriced Medical-Industrial Complex could go into the rest of the economy, creating new jobs and producing more tax revenue.

The final reason to expand Social Security and Medicare is -- it's humane. Most Americans will live 15 years or more after the official retirement age of 65. (Though there are counties in the US where the life expectancy is lower than third world countries.) As it stands now, many of them will spend this time at the edge of poverty, always worried and often afraid. Their children, who have their own financial problems, will struggle to help Mom and Dad. Or cut Mom and Dad adrift.


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