Archive for the ‘The Retiree Advocate Newslwetter’ Category

The Fight for a Secure and Dignified Retirement

Friday, July 17th, 2015

By Robby Stern

I had already begun writing this column discussing the May, 2015, report issued by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) entitled “Retirement Security: Most Households Approaching Retirement Have Low Savings,” when a front page New York Times (NYT) article entitled “U.S. Seniors Prosper, Finding ‘Sweet Spot’ in Middle Class” appeared. The Seattle Times ran the NYT article with a more modest headline, “Social Security, pensions and investments pay off for seniors.”

What the heck! The NYT’s headline and the GAO report seemed to be directly contradictory. And the NYT article made no reference at all to the May, 2015, GAO report.

The GAO report was requested by Senator Bernie Sanders. The report documented what many strongly suspected. The economic realities of the 21st century and in particular the growing income disparity between the top 2% and the remaining 98% of the population is creating the likelihood that more and more seniors will be forced to forego retirement, retire later than they had planned and/or spend their senior years in relative poverty.

The 65 and older population will grow over 50% between 2015 and 2030. This demographic group faces growing retirement insecurity for a variety of reasons. The elimination of defined benefit pensions is a big source of retirement insecurity. Corporations and public entities are eliminating the third leg of the three-legged retirement stool while 401(k) accounts are proving to be, at best, inadequate. In addition, low and declining wages make it very difficult to save.

The GAO reports, “About half of households age 55 and older have no retirement savings (such as in a 401(K) plan or an IRA).” It goes on to say, “many older households without retirement savings have few other resources, such as defined benefit (DB) plan or non-retirement savings, to draw on in retirement.”

The report adds, “Among those with some retirement savings, the median amount of those savings is about $104,000 for households age 55-64 and $148,000 for households age 65-74, equivalent to an inflation protected annuity of $310 and $649 per month, respectively. Social Security provides most of the income for more than half of households age 65 and older.” (emphasis mine)

Up steps the NYT reporting that U.S. seniors have found the “Sweet Spot” for retirement security. The age group to which the NYT was referring who “weathered the economic downturn that began in 2007 and made significant gains” are between 65-74. But, according to the GAO report, many if not most of the people in this age group are facing significant financial challenges. For example, 52% of people in this age group have NO retirement savings. While a higher percentage of this group have defined benefit pensions, 27% of people between 65-74 have no retirement savings and no defined benefit pension. Some “sweet spot”!

According to the GAO report, people between 65-74 who have retirement savings have a median savings of $148,000, meaning half have more and half have less. If there is no defined benefit pension, which there is not for a majority of the people even in this age group, they are having to live on Social Security and whatever they have been able to save.

More older people are working to supplement their income, and in most cases not because they want to, but because they have to. According to the NYT, the number of older people working has increased from one in five in the late 1990s to one in three.

The NYT article quoted Alice Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College who stated, “It is not so much that older people are experiencing unseemly gains in income. It’s more that middle-aged people are not seeing incomes growing or even keeping pace with inflation.”

The NYT article reports that the middle class is now made up of more seniors than ever. Middle class is defined as people between 40% and 80% on the income distribution scale. The economic context is the overall stagnation or decline in income for all distributions along the income scale with the exception of the top 10%. Even within the top 10%, almost all the gains have gone to the top 2%. After juxtaposing the GAO study with the NYT article and particularly with the headline “U.S. Seniors Prosper, Finding ‘Sweet Spot’ in Middle Class,” it strikes me that the NYT’s front page article really missed the point. Retirement insecurity is growing. The loss of defined benefit pensions, and declining incomes and pensions for a large majority of the people have created the threat that many, if not most, seniors now and in the future face relative poverty (with Social Security creating the floor) as they look forward to their senior years.

PSARA and organizations like PSARA are on the leading edge of fighting back. We will take every opportunity we can, including the upcoming anniversaries on August 8, to build the movement for retirement security and against those who are threatening to cut Social Security and Medicare. (Shame on our U.S. Senators and those U.S. Representatives from Washington who voted to cut Medicare in the recent Fast Track debate!). We demand the enrichment and expansion of Medicare and Social Security and significant equitable redistribution of income and wealth.

Update on the Keystone XL Pipeline

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

By Kristen Beifus, Member of PSARA Executive Board and Co-Chair of PSARA’s Environmental Committee

The Republican-controlled Congress started 2015 promising to move forward on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. For the 10th time, in January, the House and Senate passed legislation approving the construction of the 1,179 mile oil pipeline, which would carry an estimated 800,000 barrels of tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, through the U.S. to Gulf Coast refineries.

At time of press, the State Department had given federal agencies only until February 2 to weigh in on whether the $8 billion Keystone XL pipeline serves the national interest, a determination required for all border-crossing pipelines. The State Department has not committed to a timeline for their final decision.

A new batch of lawsuits have just been filed in Nebraska by seven landowners who have received written warnings that TransCanada plans to file eminent domain papers to gain access to their land. Other lawsuits have been tossed out clearing some of the way for TransCanada, which is using the courts to force landowners to sell access to their land. Some landowners have said they will not negotiate.

With support from both houses of Congress, the decision on the Keystone XL pipeline will come down to President Obama’s power to veto the legislation and then Congress’ ability to sustain that veto. The margin of support in Congress currently is not strong enough to override the veto.

What is clear is that this decision will happen soon and have an indelible impact on our planet. PSARA will keep you up-to-date on what is happening and how you can take action to stop the Keystone XL pipeline.

Our elected leaders need to put this project to rest once and for all and focus instead on reversing global warming, while creating and maintaining living wage jobs.

Interview With Will Parry, Part III

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

Editor’s Note: In 2010, former Retiree Advocate editor and lifelong working class activist Will Parry gave a 90th birthday interview to Real Change reporter Cydney Gillis. This is Part III of that interview. The conclusion will follow in a subsequent issue.

What was it like having the FBI follow you around?

I’ll give you one example. They had a stool pigeon named Traynor Hansen who worked for the Seattle P-I who was an FBI agent … He came to our office at the People’s World one time and he must have been wired. He asked me incriminating questions like: What would you do if you stumbled across some military secrets? Would you turn them over to the Russians? I’m putting it crudely. I told him I didn’t care about military secrets. I cared about the welfare of people. He started the conversation by flattering me about my coverage of the Smith Act trial. I knew that was bullshit because I was very green at covering legal proceedings and I was not at all satisfied with my own coverage, so he was fluffing me up … He subsequently came out publicly as an FBI agent.

They recruited throughout the labor movement. They had a twofold attack. From within they recruited stool pigeons and people to [be] disruptive and divisive. It still goes on today. There are people in the labor movement for whom the leadership never does anything right, they’re never radical enough … I’m often critical of leadership, but not that way.

[Then] there was this nationwide campaign to get the reds out of the labor movement. They got rid of the communists and all the militancy, all the left-wingers. It took the starch out of the labor movement. It took out the people who’d done most of the organizing and led the strikes and done the work of the labor movement. That was a tragedy for the country, and we’re still trying to repair that.

It was a concerted campaign by employers and Congress. It had its legislative focus on the Taft-Hartley Act and others like it and it had an on-the-job focus with stool pigeons and a media focus on “exposing” the reds in the labor movement. [It] took the guts of the labor movement.

What was the Smith Act trial?

The Smith Act was another repressive law aimed at the Communist Party. Eight leaders of the Communist Party in Seattle and Washington were hauled into court and charged not with conspiring to overthrow the government, but with conspiring to teach and advocate the overthrow of the government. It was several steps removed from any action to overthrow the government. It’s against the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to outlaw teaching and advocacy of anything. It was just a very repressive time.

What happened after you moved to the box plant? Did the FBI still follow you?

When I got the job at Longview Fibre, for the first few weeks, I went to work by different routes and watched for tails. But they caught up with me eventually, the FBI did. After I’d worked there four or five months, the superintendent calls me into his office and asks if I’m a communist and of course I denied it. I had to hold a damn job. Fortunately the superintendent was a nice guy and he had gone to Washington State College at the same time I did and he let me stay. Otherwise, I would have been out on my can. There were a lot of people who got fired for being reds. I was the only lefty there.

One year, some forces within the union red-baited me, so I wasn’t re-elected to the standing committee—I was defeated, badly. I just ignored it and kept going to the meetings and did my best to play a constructive role. The next year, they re-elected me. [After becoming a legislative lobbyist for the union] I had the same thing happen later with the area council of the Western Paper and Pulp Workers. They red-baited me there, too [because] Louise, my wife, had chaired a committee for a candidate who [in 1975] was an open communist running for the Legislature—Elmer Kistler. So my union brothers and sisters asked me about that. They were not happy about it at all. [But] I told them if we had a half-dozen people like Elmer Kistler in the Legislature, my job as lobbyist would be one hell of a lot easier.

A bill to revitalize America

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

By Alex Stone

Enactment of the “Rebuild America Act”, introduced by Iowa Democratic Senator Tom Harkin, would do more to help the American economy and revitalize the middle class than any other bill currently before Congress.

This sweeping legislation would boost employment by investing in

infrastructure upgrades, promoting U.S. manufacturing, and ending tax breaks that encourage U.S. firms to move production offshore.

It would also have immediate and positive impacts for the middle class by increasing access to affordable, quality child care; establishing a fair national

minimum wage; allowing all Americans to earn paid sick leave; and strengthening and protecting Social Security, among other things.

It’s clear this legislation would provide considerable help to the American middle class, but its provisions to strengthen and protect Social Security are particularly noteworthy.

For Social Security beneficiaries, the “Rebuild America Act” would increase benefits by about $60/month for the average beneficiary – a boon for seniors, disabled workers and survivors living on fixed incomes. It would also change the way the Social Security Administration calculates benefits from the current Consumer Price Index for workers (CPI-W) to the Consumer Price Index for Elders (CPI-E), which more accurately reflects inflationary health care and other costs faced by seniors.

To pay for these changes, and to ensure Social Security is solvent and

soundly-financed well into the future, Senator Harkin proposes “scrapping

the $110,000 cap” on taxable wages, ensuring all Americans pay into Social Security at the same tax rate. High earners – who currently pay a much lower tax rate into Social Security than middle class earners – would then pay the same rate of 6.2%.

The “Rebuild America Act” is legislation that would address some of the most critical issues affecting middle class families today. Its provisions to strengthen and protect Social Security deserve special attention.

(Alex Stone is Communication Manager for the Economic Opportunity Institute and a PSARA member.)