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Media Doublespeak - You Never Get to Retire

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The Oregonian from December 29, 2013
(image by Rowan Wolf)
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In typical corporate media fashion, my local paper places totally contradictory articles - not only in the same edition, but on the same page. The big headline reads "Portraits in Aging Gracefully." It is a human interest story about three local women in an upscale "retirement community."  The women interviewed in the article "talk about lives well lived and what lies ahead." Just to the left of the banner story is "Retirement fiscal cliff is looming worldwide" an AP story by David McHugh.

Of course there is a direct relationship between the two articles - namely retirement. There is also the obvious contradiction.

McHugh tells us:

Many people will be forced to work well past the traditional retirement age of 65 -- to 70 or even longer.

Living standards will fall, and poverty rates will rise for the elderly in wealthy countries that built safety nets for seniors after World War II. In developing countries, people's rising expectations will be frustrated if governments can't afford retirement systems to replace the tradition of children caring for aging parents.

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This does not exactly provide a good start for "aging gracefully."

And what is driving this race to the bottom for the global aging population? Well according to McHugh:

-- Countries are slashing retirement benefits and raising the age to start collecting them. These countries are awash in debt after overspending last decade and racking up enormous deficits since the recession. Now, they face a demographics disaster as retirees live longer and falling birth rates mean there will be fewer workers to support them.

-- Companies have eliminated traditional pension plans that cost employees nothing and guaranteed them a monthly check in retirement.

-- Individuals spent freely and failed to save before the recession, and they saw much of their wealth disappear once it hit.

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Left out of this astute analysis is what these countries were spending the retirement savings on - instead of their retirement programs (and other aspects of the social welfare). What they diverted those funds to, and spent lavishly on, were corporations and particularly the financial sector. That sector has come to be the point of commonality for virtually everything from illegal drugs to the multitudinous "conflicts" and wars, to yes, retirement funds.

Oh yes, let us not forget the governments having to stand surety for corporations bugging out on their retirement commitments (at least in the US). Unfortunately for workers, their retirement largely went down the drain with their retirement savings. We have seen the beastly culmination of this in the Detroit bankruptcy which neatly swallowed the retirement of public workers.

So two of the three "convergence factors" tie directly back to big monied interests. What about the third - the profligate spending by individuals? As wages eroded, the middles class was forced to move more of their expenses to credit, and then roll that credit into second (and third and fourth) mortgages to dig their way out of the hole. And the biggest sources of that debt (and bankruptcy) was not fancy cars and big screen TVs, but  medical debt. Stupid people trying to keep themselves alive to retire rather than saving for retirement.

Of course, for a couple of (middle class) generations that came before, their home was their investment bank. It just took "liberalizing" the financial sector for the financiers to steal those investment banks, and get paid for doing so.

Now, across the globe, those (in the middle class) heading for retirement have been driven to the verge and beyond. No graceful aging for them. Nor, of course for those lower than middle class who had no savings or retirement plans to start with.

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Rowan Wolf is an activist and sociologist living in Oregon. She is the founder and principle author of Uncommon Thought Journal, and Editor in Chief of Cyrano's Journal Today.


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