Thursday, April 20, 2006

Unsocial Insecurity

I saw my neighbor Andy heading across the street for me and thought, "Oh god, here goes an hour of my life..."

Andy interrupted me while I was mowing my lawn. Over a period of time I've whittled down the size of my lawn by xeriscaping over sections of my yard, but I still have enough lawn that I have to go out and risk pulling a muscle to get the ol' Craftsman going. Andy had a letter from his church, advising how to prepare for an emergency. It's some sort of post-Katrina thing someone at his church was thinking of, but we live 2000 miles away in a desert, far from a gulf or ocean.

Andy really brought it over as an excuse to talk. Andy is once again out of work. For the last few years he had been driving a van, picking up passengers from across the valley and taking them to the airport. I didn't ask him what happened; he was obviously laid off or as in the case of many of his former jobs, just got fired for some cause.

He knows I work for a school district. There are four of them in our area, of which the one I work for is second largest, with 65,000 students and nearly 100 schools. He told me his next door neighbor had arranged an interview for a driving job with another district, the second smallest in our area, which encompasses most of the inner city.

I asked him if it required a CDL license. He said, "I sure hope not. I'm 30% blind in one eye from my war injury. I'm partially disabled because of that." I noticed he was wearing a ball cap that said VIETNAM VET AND PROUD OF IT. He then went on to tell me some details of the job, six hours a day, Friday's off, etc., and that didn't sound all that good to me, but he capped it by saying, "I'm 60, so in two more years I'm going to start drawing Social Security." We talked about that for a few minutes.

After he left paranoia crept back up on me. Like a lot of people I'm getting close to Social Security age and wonder if the rules will be changed any more before I get there. They've already raised the age I could get my full Social Security, from 65 to 66. That's one more year behind the steering wheel of my truck, folks. I have toyed with the idea of drawing on it early, but Andy's idea that it could be some sort of pension, well...I hope he's got all his bills paid, because he'll barely be getting enough with Social Security to buy food and/or pay his utility bills.

Goddam it. When did this happen? When did everyone in government just let that system start going to hell knowing that this huge bulge in the population, us Baby Boomers, were moving down the road to retirement?

I've been told that the Social Security fund for many years was too big a stash of cash for the Big Spenders in our government to ignore, so they dipped their sticky hands in it in order to pay for things like the Vietnam war. Now we'll pay for it. Not only did we get drafted in the Army because of the Vietnam war, but we'll pay for it additionally in having to wait longer for our benefits and maybe not getting as much!

Everyone knows that Bush and Cheney or any of their families or buddies don't have to worry about depending on Social Security when they're too old to work. Since I don't trust anything Dubya comes up with, I didn't buy his Social Security plan, and apparently neither did anyone else.

I resent the implication that Baby Boomers are the cause of the problem. We're here in large numbers and that isn't our fault. We couldn't help it if our horny daddies came back from WWII ready to impregnant our moms in record numbers. Mom told me that when I was born in 1947 the hospital was putting women in the hall because the maternity wards were overflowing. Pediatricians had all the business they would want. The schools were in crisis the whole time we were in the system.

The story goes that circa 1953-'54 the then-superintendent of the district where I work told some parents, complaining about large class sizes and old school buildings: "I'm sorry folks, but your children are coming faster than bricks."

So what did anybody learn by this experience? In 1970 50% of the population was under 25 years of age! No one said, "Jeezus, in about 40 years we'll be in big trouble unless we start planning now." Elected officials didn't want to think about it, and neither did any of us in the public. Me either, I'm sorry to admit. That's the problem: No one thought about it, and if they did they didn't want to mention it. "Uh, excuse me...are you aware that in the first ten years of the 21st Century we're going to have a whole bunch of people retiring?" That would have gone over like the proverbial fart in church.

OK, so I'm what do I do? Well, I'm just glad I have a pension plan backed up by a state which has a solid state retirement fund. If I go another five years working for the school district then I can retire for 70% of my base pay and if I'm lucky they won't have moved the Social Security retirement age up to 80 or thereabouts, further punishing us Baby Boomers for being the children of parents who in the days after World War II were in some sort of sex frenzy. Or was it just a fad to have a bunch of kids? I think it had something to do with that, after all. Thanks once again, Mom and Dad!

Ciao for now. El Postino

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