The 47 percent -- and what we can't afford

  • Article by: WILL NAGLE
  • Updated: September 25, 2012 - 7:33 PM

Humanity by the numbers.

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An activist associated with the Occupy Wall Street movement has the words "Greed Kill" stamped on his forehead during a gathering of the movement in Washington Square park, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012 in New York. T

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I do not agree with how Mitt Romney delivered the message about the "47 percent." But the truth is, many of us have had similar conversations with friends. The difference is that we were not secretly filmed.

Having nearly half of American households receiving some type of government check is simply not sustainable. Yet that number will continue to rise. More and more baby boomers are entering retirement. I am in my early 40s, and my generation is the smallest out there and will be depended on, along with Gen Y behind us, to carry a big burden. Where is the money going to come from?

It is about time these issues get talked about. Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, risk losing votes talking about these things, and I am sure President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are smiling. But we are bankrupting ourselves, partly with programs that were designed to be short-term and help those in need for a short time.

Too many healthy American adults are on disability who should not be. I have heard it all -- my back hurts, I was in an accident, I get tired too easily, etc., etc.

Why do I not have compassion for them? Two reasons. First, when I go into my local Target store, I often run into a store employee who is in a wheelchair, a man who cannot walk or even use his arms or hands very well. He has trouble speaking clearly. Yet he manages to put on his Target badge and proudly ask me if I need help finding anything. Twice he has led me to what I was looking for. If he can do it, I think most can, and I think most employers are very accommodating for those with disabilities.

Second, my back hurts from time to time. I am tired. I work long hours. And frankly, my health is not perfect. But I work, and I do it proudly, and do not expect someone else to take care of me.

Having nearly 50 million Americans on food stamps is a tragedy. This number has grown tremendously, and the benefits have increased. We all know this is a problem but don't want to address it. The program is being abused, plain and simple. Fraud is occurring; recent articles noted that Minnesota has one of the highest levels of fraud on electronic benefit transfer cards.

Grocery stores across the nation open at midnight, when EBT cards get loaded, and run sales. Store managers and department managers will tell you (though not on a microphone or in front of a camera) that carts get loaded with lobster tails, crab legs, steaks, shrimp. This is abuse. If you need food stamps, great, but use them to buy flour, cereal, chicken, fish, fruits and vegetables and milk and cheese. Someone who is working hard and struggles to buy ground beef certainly does not need to see someone on the dole buying steak and lobster. It is an insult.

Medicare and Social Security were designed to supplement income upon retirement and for those who lost a spouse and have children to take care of. Two good programs with great intentions. However, over the past 60 or so years, things have changed.

People are living longer. The average American lived to about 65 at the end of World War II; today, the average is near 80. A 15-year increase, and 15 more years per person of cost. The age is now rising for full benefits, and for my generation we are looking at 70, with likely another increase coming before we retire. That will partially solve the problem, but remember, we are a much smaller generation. To fix a problem, you have to go after everything and get to the heart of the matter. Current recipients of these programs are rising fast, and those claiming benefits are living longer.

The big argument rises here: "I earned it." "They earned it." There are clear and hard-to-take answers for this: "No, they did not, and no, you did not." I know it hurts. It hurts to say it. I don't like it. But few have paid enough taxes into the program to sustain their benefits much beyond five years, in particular those in poor health requiring a lot of medical attention.

Today, when someone is 88 and their knee starts giving out, we give them surgery -- often expensive, major surgery and aftercare. I remember, growing up, seeing many elderly walking with canes; today, those canes have all but disappeared. Please do not misunderstand me, I want our seniors to be comfortable and live well. But I also want to make sure we can pay for it and do not bankrupt ourselves in the process.

Ask yourselves a hard question: Would you rather see a few more canes, or would you rather see America bankrupt and a situation like Greece's or Spain's emerging? I think we all know the answer is obvious; it is just hard to say. It is even harder to debate and discuss and solve, but it needs to be done.

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Will Nagle lives in Apple Valley.

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