Professor and Chair, Department of Social Welfare Policy, Boston University
There can be no question that the current economic crisis is emerging as the most dire that we have seen since the 1930s. And, in terms of both employment opportunities and retirement savings, it seems certain to hit older Americans as hard as it will everyone else. Looking for any silver lining in this situation, one finally occurs to me. In recent years, pressures on age-related programs have built as "the scope of conflict" around aging policy has expanded, meaning that programs that were once politically insulated are now under scrutiny and attack from those who see entitlement spending for older adults leading us toward fiscal doom.
Yet, the very challenge we face has allowed the scope of conflict to expand even wider and, in so doing, place aging policy on a side burner if not a back burner. Specifically in the case of Medicare, the issue is being recast, by President Obama and others, as being centrally about a health care financing and delivery system that is largely out of control and not as part of an entitlement crisis centered on older Americans.
Less certain, but possible, is that Social Security is coming to be seen as either a manageable problem or even as en economic stabilizer both meeting needs and protecting income. There is nothing more shovel-ready in America than Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance.