Originally Published in The Washington Times
By Robert Weiner and Chrisanthy Stotis
White House Conference Will Provide Window to our Future and Must Respond to Half of Over-50 Americans having under $25,000 in Retirement Savings and Investments; Cutting Social Security is not the Answer
The White House Conference on Aging, held once a decade, is taking place Monday in the East Room and South Court. Its mandate is to develop an agenda to help the elderly. The issue crosses party lines.
Americans over the age of 85 are our country's most rapidly growing sector of population. "Elder" or "senior" is defined in various ways -- from AARP's 50-plus eligibility to Medicare's trigger at age 65. What is clear is that millions of elderly Americans are abused, mistreated and manipulated.
One of the most startling statistics relates to sexual abuse, which common mythology says is against young women. But rape is often a crime of violence and control, not attraction. Of reported cases of elderly sex abuse, 70.7 percent transpire within the walls of the nursing homes in which they reside. And in 81 percent of elder sexual abuse cases, the perpetrator was the caregiver hired to assist the elderly individual.
Financial abuse is quickly becoming the largest type of elderly abuse. Five million elderly Americans are financially scammed each year, according to Consumer Digest, and only around one in every 25 cases is reported to government officials. Seniors are embarrassed they have been taken.
The conference this week marks the 50-year anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid, and the 80th anniversary of Social Security. It's become controversial on all sides, as Donald Trump in his announcement said candidates who want to cut entitlements lose elections. Mike Huckabee also opposes cuts while Chris Christie said in his announcement that cutting entitlements would be his first order of business. Jeb Bush has supported raising the retirement age for those on Social Security and those nearing it. Jeb's brother George suffered an embarrassing loss on Social Security reform when he tried hard to privatize a portion of Social Security. Newt Gingrich commented at the time, "I've never seen an issue handled worse by the White House."
President Obama said last week, "Three generations ago, we chose to end an era when seniors were left to languish in poverty. We passed Social Security, and slowly it was woven into the fabric of America and made a difference in the lives of millions of people. Two generations ago, we chose to end an age when Americans in their golden years didn't have the guarantee of health care. Medicare was passed, and it helped millions."
Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders want to expand Social Security benefits. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said of Social Security, "First do no harm."
Efforts to help the elderly avoid poverty must not be over. The White House Conference will have to confront how to maintain seniors' income security in the face of two-thirds fewer companies providing private pensions with defined regular monthly checks than three decades ago.
The AARP, which regularly draws bipartisan support, reported that half of Americans 50 and over hold less than $25,000 in savings and investment, not a livable amount for retirement.
In order to sustain the elderly population of America, the White House conference is set to focus on four vital areas for elderly well-being: retirement security, long-term services and support, elder justice and healthy aging. This week the White House Conference on Aging will provide a window into all our futures.
Robert S. Weiner is a former White House spokesman in the Clinton and Bush administrations and former chief of staff of the House Committee on Aging. Chrisanthy Stotis is policy analyst at Robert Weiner Associates and Solutions for Change.