Column: Rewriting the intergenerational contract

In a new column for National Journal, I discuss an article by Isabel Sawhill and Emily Monea of the Brookings Institution, which calls for America's "intergenerational contract" to be rewritten:

The current contract, Sawhill and Monea say, was written in the 1930s when Social Security was born, revised in the 1960s with the addition of Medicare and Medicaid (which pays nursing home benefits), and then revised again in the current decade with passage of the prescription drug benefit.

The authors point out that this contract takes several things for granted: that workers will continue to retire at 65; that most seniors are too poor to support themselves in retirement or to pay for their own health care; and that younger Americans are, on average, better off than elderly Americans. Those assumptions, they argue, need to be challenged.

The poverty rate among the elderly (partly thanks to Social Security, of course) fell from 35 percent in 1959 to 9 percent in 2006. The poverty rate among working-age households is much higher, at 13 percent.

Some 80 percent of the elderly own their own homes, and three-quarters of those have paid off their mortgages. Social Security and Medicare have succeeded almost too well. The fiscal cost of that success keeps rising, and it is falling on working-age Americans who feel beleaguered--and who in many ways are worse off than the contract's beneficiaries.


A new deal needs to be struck, they say. But what should be the terms of this revised compact? And what are its chances, politically? You can read the column here (the link expires in a fortnight).

Presented by

Why Is Google Making Human Skin?

Hidden away on Google’s campus, doctors at a world-class life sciences lab are trying to change the way people think about their health.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Videos

Why Is Google Making Human Skin?

Hidden away on Google’s campus, doctors are changing the way people think about health.

Video

How to Build a Tornado

A Canadian inventor believes his tornado machine could solve the world's energy crisis.

Video

A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This short film takes you on a whirling tour of the Big Apple

Video

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we save the night sky?

Video

The Pentagon's $1.5 Trillion Mistake

The F-35 fighter jet was supposed to do everything. Instead, it can barely do anything.

More in Business

Just In