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Aging Expert Sees Tougher Road For Retirees

Florida State University

No matter our age, we’re all getting older.  One Tallahassee expert on the subject of aging has some predictions, not all of which are happy ones.

Dr. Larry Polivka heads up the Claude Pepper Center and is also Scholar-in-Residence with the Claude Pepper Foundation.  His research is focused on what lies ahead for the country’s rapidly growing population of folks aged 65-plus.

“It’s the relationship of what’s happening in the economy and what’s happening to retirement security, primarily,” he said. “And that’s retirement security defined pretty broadly, not just pensions and Social Security, but also healthcare, long-term care, which is an area that gets overlooked by almost everybody all the time and yet if affects millions and millions of people and millions more as this population doubles in the next 20 years.”

Polivka is of the opinion America’s growing income inequality over the past forty or fifty years, as well as stagnant and even declining wages in the workforce, can’t help but have a negative impact on retirees as well.

“As a matter of fact, we now know that most Boomers will have poorer prospects for retirement than their parents did.  In fact, their parents probably had what can be referred to as the ‘Golden Age of Retirement’.”

The younger the Boomer, the more profound that impact, Polivka believes. 

“And the latest estimate is that over 60 percent of the Boomers born between 1958 and 1964 are not going to be able to earn through various pensions – including Social Security – at least 75 percent of their last wage when they were working and that’s generally considered the level you want to shoot for.”

And what are some of the factors causing this scary prospect?

“Mainly the movement from defined benefits to defined contribution plans, you’re increasingly on your own in the equities market and also because of increasing health care costs,” he predicted. “Even with Medicare, out-of-pocket costs right now constitute about 15% of the total income of people over 65.  That’s going to go to 25% in 20 years.”

So what’s the solution?  Polivka insisted that the existing Social Security setup must be preserved and not voucherized as some have suggested.  Likewise, the Medicare program needs to be protected and even expanded to include what he considers a critical new component.

“At this point there is no long-term care benefit under Medicare.  It was something that Claude Pepper proposed 26 years ago.  It’s also something that Senator Bob Graham was interested in 15 years ago, to at least include community and home-based health services, personal care services, assisted living, at least include that under Medicare.”

Given today’s political climate, it seems unlikely such a thing could happen, but Polivka says it’s still something to think about.  Polivka made a full presentation on the subject this week (7/14/15) to the Creative Aging Group that meets every month at the Tallahassee Senior Center.