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Connecting Entitlement Reform to Immigration Reform

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I was born in 1946, just when the boomer wave began. Bill Clinton was born that year, too. So was George W. Bush, as was Laura Bush. And Ken Starr (remember him?) And then, the next year, Hillary Rodham was born. And soon Newt Gingrich (known as "Newty" as a boy). And Cher (Every time I begin feeling old I remind myself she's not that much younger.)

Why did so many of us begin coming into the world in 1946? Demographers have given this question a great deal of attention.

My father, for example, was in World War II -- as were the fathers of many other early boomers. Ed Reich came home from the war, as did they. My mother was waiting  for him, as were their mothers.

When it comes down to it, demographics is not all that complicated.

Fast-forward. Most of us early boomers had planned to retire around now. Those born a few years later had planned to retire in a few years.

But these plans have gone awry. First, boomer wages didn't rise as fast as we expected they would. In fact, over the last 30 years the median wage has barely budged, adjusted for inflation.

As a result, most of us haven't saved as much as we'd hoped.

Then employers scaled back our pensions. Instead of the predictable monthly benefits many of our parents got when they retired, we received "defined contribution" plans -- basically, do-it-yourself pensions. Some employers initially offered to match what we socked away, but those employer matches often shrank to the vanishing point.

We nonetheless took comfort from the rising prices of our homes, and assumed they'd become modest nest eggs when we sold them and bought smaller places for retirement.

But then the housing bubble burst.

Meanwhile, whatever we'd managed to sock away in the stock market lost years of value.   

We assumed we'd at least have Social Security and Medicare. After all, we've been paying into both programs for years.

Yet both are now being eyed by deficit hawks who say the only way to avoid large and unsustainable budget deficits in future years is to limit these programs.

For example, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson have just offered another of their deficit-cutting plans -- paring back Social Security's annual cost-of-living adjustment and reducing Medicare by squeezing suppliers and cutting benefits for higher-income retirees.   

So are the boomers doomed?

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Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, has a new film, "Inequality for All," to be released September 27. He blogs at www.robertreich.org.

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