Sunday, February 12, 2023

Happy February. Bah, humbug.

I know I hinted about maybe posting more this week about that star-shaped afghan I've been working on because I'd almost finished it. 

Well, I finished it. And it didn't turn out the way I thought it would -- one side of each star point was obviously narrower than the other side. So I ripped the whole thing. The. Whole. Thing. Weeks of work.

I'm starting over, though, and I'm going to be more careful this time. I was pretty cavalier about counting my stitches the first time, and it's possible that's why it didn't turn out the way it should have. Or maybe I should have tried to even things out by blocking the afghan. If it turns out the same way this time, even with careful counting and so on, I'll try blocking it and see if that fixes it. Anyway, you'll get a picture eventually. Maybe.

That's kind of how this last week or so has been going in general, and it's making me grumpy. Or at least I thought that's what was making me grumpy. Then I looked at the calendar, and it all became clear.

I won't bore you again with my antipathy for Valentine's Day; I've written about it it often enough in the past. Instead, I will offer you, Dear Reader, a Valentine, generated for free from the website of the Washington Post. Feel free to follow the link and make your own!
As long as we're talking about hearts and stuff, I thought I'd mention Medicare. And, what the heck, Social Security, too.

This past week, President Biden kind of pulled a fast one on the Republicans in Congress. He made a big deal during his State of the Union speech about how some of them plan to cut Social Security and Medicare. That is absolutely true, and the White House issued a fact sheet to back him up -- naming names, even. But of course, the Republicans weren't going to admit it in front of 27 million people on live television. So they joined their fellow members of Congress on the Democratic side of the aisle by standing and cheering when Biden said, "we all apparently agree" that Social Security and Medicare will not be cut -- and if a bill containing such cuts does somehow get to his desk, he'll veto it.

It made for great political theater. But we all know how politics works -- or we should by now. The GOP will try to cut the programs anyway; they just won't admit that's what they're doing. They'll call it something else.

One cut/not-a-cut that's been done in the past is to increase the age at which people can collect their full Social Security benefits. My father retired in the mid 1980s at the age of 65. That was full retirement age for everybody back then. But in 1983, saying Social Security was running out of money, Congress began rolling back full retirement age. My full retirement age is 66 and a half; I won't get there 'til next summer. Folks younger than me face a full retirement age of 67. 

The idea was to "save Social Security" by encouraging people to work longer. But it hasn't worked. CNBC has a great analysis of why it has failed. In a nutshell: Congress thought 401(k) plans, which were brand new at the time, would fund a bigger chunk of retirees' income. But not everybody has access to a 401(k) plan at work, and not everybody who has access to one is as diligent as they should be about paying into it. The result? The vast majority of retirees still rely on Social Security for most of their income. (In fact, according to the CNBC article, lower-paid workers are taking Social Security early to supplement their income. When they can't work anymore, their income drops. That's one reason why the poverty rate among seniors is rising.)

Keep that in mind the next time you hear somebody suggest that Social Security should be privatized; that's what 401(k) plans were supposed to do, and it hasn't worked. (Ditto for Medicare Advantage plans, which are supposed to save Medicare but instead are rife with fraud and abuse. I railed against that here not long ago.)

Congress in '83 also thought, somewhat giddily, that American workers would be healthy enough to work longer. While that's true for well-educated White folks with office jobs, it's not universally true. In fact, it discriminates against minorities and those who aren't as well educated. (Even having a cushy office job doesn't guarantee a long life; I watched for years as secretaries I worked with at the BigLaw firm retired, then died just a few years later. Turns out being sedentary is bad for longevity. Who knew?)

Regardless, the Republican Study Committee in the House of Representatives has drawn up a budget that would once again "save Social Security" by rolling back full retirement age some more, phasing in the rollback until folks born in 1978 or later would not reach full retirement age until age 70. 

You know what this would do, right? It would kick the can down the road, just like in '83. As Alicia Munnell, the director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, says in that CNBC article, there are only two ways to fix Social Security: "You can have less money go out or more money come in." And Republicans won't raise taxes. The only solution they'll entertain is to cut benefits -- and as Munnell says, "increasing the retirement age is a benefit cut." Twenty years from now, or sooner, we'll be right back where we are now. 

I suppose eventually, Congress could raise the full retirement age so high that most folks would die before they could collect anything. That'll save Social Security, all right.

Now I'm getting grumpy again. I'm going to go knit. Happy Valentine's Day.

These moments of grumpy blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!

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