Shadows in so-called Golden Years

Media says old folks are happy—that’s news to one, at least

Recently honored by the California Newspaper Publishers Association for business/finance writing, Dr. Richard Ek is a retired Chico State University journalism professor and department chairman who contributes regularly to the Chico News & Review.

Recently the news media reported a study by a University of Chicago sociologist who would have us believe old people are happy with their lot, that the best part of old age is that it brings contentment because seniors learn to lower their expectations. At 82, I think I can say with some authority that these findings are propaganda.

What the study calls lowered expectations is actually a sense of resignation or giving up. Seniors in their 70s and beyond must deal each day with a number of bleak realities. The two worst are failing health and too little money.

Indeed, one old-folks joke goes like this: The three most important things for a happy old age are good health, good health, and good health. If you don’t have good health, it helps to have plenty of money. If you don’t have either good health or plenty of money, you need a great sense of humor.

Well, beyond the punch line is the grim fact that lacking any of those three things means the so-called Golden Years don’t exist. In fact, few oldsters enjoy Golden Years, a fuzzy, dreamy concept that grew out of folk music that matched the gold of autumn leaves with the closing years of life. You know, silver threads among the gold.

Money for the basics of food, vital medications, and home heating have brought a shocking increase in the number of senior bankruptcy filings, leaving oldsters bitter about their share of the American Dream that says they should enjoy a secure and dignified retirement. According to the American Association of Retired People (AARP), the bankruptcy rate for seniors aged 65 to 75 jumped by 125 percent between 1991 and 2007. For those 75 to 85, it skyrocketed by 433.3 percent for the same period!

Now to propaganda. The media reports didn’t say who sponsored (financed) the study, but I’d bet it was a government agency, probably Social Security. The feds are no doubt softening up the nation’s 45 million old people for a hit on their SS benefits in a couple of years when enough Baby Boomers start drawing benefits to over-stress the system.

The feds now tax 80 percent of my benefits. I’ll wager it’ll be 100 percent by 2010 or 2011. Or maybe SS will force a means test—selling it as OK because “studies show” seniors have found contentment along with lowered expectations.

Clearly, seniors are expected to buy this advice from The Wizard of Oz: When all is lost, there is nothing more to lose, no need for worry and nothing to be done.