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Hullabaloo


Saturday, January 31, 2015

 
The elderly poor had it so good back in the day

by digby

Paul Rosenberg has a very interesting interview on Salon with Nancy Altman and Eric Kingson, authors of "Social Security Works!"

An excerpt:
Rosenberg: I mentioned before Amitai Etzioni’s article trying to paint Elizabeth Warren and other progressive Democrats as supporting “unpopular populism,” which he identifies with “welfare,” deliberately misrepresenting the actual issues she and other progressives have been focusing on. Etzioni even goes so far as to try to use Social Security—as opposed to welfare—against Warren, despite the fact that Warren advocates strengthening and expanding Social Security. His argument seems to typify the blindness of elite discourse to the actual economic issues of the day, and your book struck me as perfectly illuminating the one program at the center of their blind spot. To those who might be swayed by such arguments, that there’s nothing popular that progressive populists can hope to do, what points does your book make to shine a light on what’s being missed?

Altman: The beauty of Social Security, the ingenuity of that program, is that it represents basic American values that are shared very broadly. So, as a consequence, Social Security is extremely successful, but it’s also extremely popular across the political spectrum.

We found in polling that Tea Partyers support it, union members support it, independents, Republicans, Democrats – it’s also widely supported among every demographic group and every age. The younger you are, the less likely you are to think Social Security will be there for you but they do support it, they believe it’s an important program … So this is an issue that, when you’ve got 80 percent of the country answering polls that Social Security should be expanded, but they do not think it should be cut, they think it’s vital, they think it’s more important in the future, all of those kinds of things, those kinds of numbers, you know that it’s very popular.

Kingson: The reality is most Americans have only Social Security to count on. This is middle-class, working-class people, low-income people, even upper-middle-income people; the core protection they have for the children if they die, for life insurance protection, if they become disabled as workers, and when they retire. So it’s critical. The other thing, when I think about Etzioni, I think of communitarianism and the irony here is that nothing gives greater expression to the notion of national community than Social Security. Honestly, this program is certainly about restoring economic security, but it’s also about these notions of dignity, holding families together, responsibility to do work, but also to the right to receive just dues as a result. So this is an institution that ties our country together, at the same time that we have many forces moving toward entropy.

Rosenberg: You point out that before Social Security came into being, old age and poverty were synonymous, and old age was commonly looked at with dread. Few people alive today have any memory of that, but could you talk about that reality, what it was like, and what kind of difference Social Security made?

Altman: When Social Security was enacted, every state except New Mexico had poorhouses. I know that sounds like Dickens, but this is just 80 years ago. The residents—they were called “inmates”—were not working-age people, or children; they tended to be people who have been independent all their lives, but dependent on wages. When they were no longer able to work, if they didn’t have children who could take them in, they literally went to the poorhouse. It was often common at that time that if the worker died, the family would split apart. Orphanages were full of children who still had a parent living who couldn’t support those children. Often you’d see people begging on the streets; there were lots of stories about that.

Yes, these poorhouses existed all the way up until the 1930s.

Here's what the population looked like:




The second one is a poorhouse broom factory. Working until they dropped dead kept the old people from becoming moochers and parasites, dontchaknow.

Conservatives won't admit that this is the system we will inevitably adopt if they have their way.  It's where their philosophy leads. Sure, some people will have children who will be forced to take them in at the expense of their own kids. And some people will make enough money in their lifetime to be able to support themselves in old age (assuming they don't have to spend every penny on medical care, which is probable.) But in the conservative/libertarian system this will be the inevitable end for a whole lot of people.

By the way, they are also trying to destroy disability insurance and are questioning whether mental illness really exists, so there are going to be a lot of folks in the poorhouse. They seem to be willing to spend whatever it takes to keep massive numbers of people in prison however, so I'd imagine that most of the sick, old and mentally ill poor could wind up there, so that's good. They'll have a roof over their heads at least.


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