Features | Seniors: Bail out our pensions

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Entering into a comfy retirement is a dream of many who have spent a good chunk of their lives toiling away at work. A peaceful, livable retirement seems like a reasonable aspiration. However, too often such a dream remains unfulfilled. Many retirees find themselves living on a poverty pension, whose inflation hurriedly catches up with their fixed incomes.

A couple of weeks ago, 93-year-old Marvin Schur from Michigan froze to death in his own home after the power company restricted his use of electricity because of unpaid bills. According to the county medical examiner, Kanu Virani, the WWII veteran died “a slow, painful death.” Though the U.S. particularly treats pensions as a private matter – rather than a social responsibility – throughout the world, similar stories are being repeated over and again. What has our society become when it can no longer take care of its elders who have laid the basis for its future?

Millions of jobs have been lost since the latest economic crisis hit. In the U.S. alone, more than half a million people lost jobs last month. But the side of the crisis not being told is how hundreds of billions of dollars of pension funds have evaporated due to the recession. This hard-earned pension fund – which the workers have pooled together for their future – has been used to gamble in the stock market and hedge fund by the bankers. After making billions off of it, from which a small crumb was thrown to the workers in the form of petty dividend for their invested pension fund, these bankers lost most of the pension fund and just shrugged their shoulders, “That’s how the market works: sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.” They forget to tell us that more often than not it is the regular Joe and Mary with their little Mike and Jenny who truly lose.

With a straight face, many economists have declared that our generation will be the first generation that cannot expect a better living standard than that of our parents. Our supposed savior, President Barack Obama, has also told us that we will have to face many hard choices and difficulties in the future. It all sounds like we are being prepared to accept that our retirement dream is just that: a fleeting episode that we forget the moment the blaring sound of our alarm clock awakes us for another day of working hard at a job we might lose at any moment.

However, the dream of livable retirement doesn’t have to be shattered. The first thing that our government should do, especially in the face of this crisis, is to ensure that each person who has spent decades of his or her life working – whether as a McDonald’s cashier, a doctor, or a factory worker – receives a livable pension. This means saving the pension fund, but not by bailing out the banks that have gambled away the fund and refusing to take responsibility. This means bailing out the people, not the banks.