Population ageing is underway and transforming economies and societies around the world. Based on five key factors that affect older people's wellbeing, the first ever Global AgeWatch Index measured more than 90 countries based on quality of life and wellbeing of older people worldwide. America ranked 8th overall behind world leaders Sweden  and Norway , but in the category of income security, it ranked 36th behind Estonia , Montenegro  and Latvia .
Nearly two weeks into a shutdown of the federal government orchestrated by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives as a strategy to render more budget spending cuts from President Obama and Senate Democrats, including a defunding of the nation's health care law, the Affordable Care Act America now knows as Obamacare, advocates for strengthening seniors' income security through strengthening Social Security by not weakening it fear a grand bargain between Republicans and Democrats in Washington that could include chained CPI, a reduction in benefits over time that will hurt tens of millions who rely on their monthly Social Security payments, which in turn benefit their respective state's economy.
The so-called Chained Consumer Price Index (C-CPI-U) is a time series measure of price levels of consumer goods and services created by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as an alternative Consumer Price Index. The Chained CPI is not currently used but is often discussed as a possible reform to reduce the federal deficit, a major goal for Republicans but a secondary goal for Democrats.
Ohio Congressman and Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives John Boehner (R-West Chester) has pressed the president and Senate Democrats for weeks to come to the table and work with Republicans to find a path forward on government funding, the debt limit and protecting all Americans from ObamaCare.
Attacking Social Security has long been sought by GOP leaders in Congress as part of a long-term plan to reduce the national debt by raising the retirement age, means testing seniors or privatizing it. Backers of Social Security, signed into law in 1935 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, say program solvency can be extended for decades more by raising the taxable income cap, among other commonsense remedies Republicans have no interest in.
In a demonstration of why the nation ranked 36th in income security in the Global AgeWatch Index, American seniors, based on preliminary inflation figures, should expect a Social Security cost-of-living adjustment [COLA] of about 1.5 percent, which would be among the smallest since automatic increases were adopted in 1975, the Associated Press will report Monday. Millions of Social Security recipients, for the second straight year, can expect a historically small increase in benefits come January, but as AP reporter Stephen Ohlemacher writes, the exact size of the COLA won't be known until the Labor Department releases the inflation report for September. But that report, due this Wednesday, will be delayed indefinitely because of the partial government shutdown.
Approximately 58 million retirees, disabled workers, spouses and children receive Social Security benefits. Based on an average monthly payment is $1,162, a 1.5 percent raise would produce about $17 in additional income per month. The COLA also affects benefits for more than 3 million disabled veterans, about 2.5 million federal retirees and their survivors, and more than 8 million people who get Supplemental Security Income, the disability program for the poor.
Global AgeWatch says its Index makes international comparisons of quality of life in older age possible and is a tool to measure progress, as it aims to improve the impact of policy and practice on ageing populations.
Index categories include income, health, employment and education and enabling environment. The new index covers 91 countries, which represent 89 percent of the world's older people, but couldn't include others because data on their index measures doesn't exist at this time.
"While data may be held nationally, the construction of international data sets is such that internationally comparable data on the situation of older people is still limited, AgeWatch says on its webpage. "The shortage of data on older people may be systematically excluding them from development plans and public policy provision."
AgeWatch breaks down strengths and weaknesses that affect the wellbeing of American seniors:
United States: Global AgeWatch rank: 8
- Income security rank: 36
- Health status rank: 24
- Employment and education rank: 2
- Enabling environment rank: 16
Income Security: Income security describes access to a sufficient amount of income, and the capacity to use it independently, in order to meet basic needs in older age.
Health Status: Advancing age is linked to physical frailty and is also closely associated with risk of the onset of ill-health and disability.
Employment and Education: This domain describes elements of the coping capacity and capability attributes of older people.
Enabling Environment: Older people want to have the freedom of choice to live independent and self-reliant lives.
Among the report's findings is that "people in countries with a record of enacting progressive social welfare policies for all their citizens across the life-course are more likely to reap the benefits in terms of better health and wellbeing and a sense of social connectedness in old age."
Money is clearly important, but even poor countries like Nepal (77) have introduced a basic pension in 1995 for all over-70s without other pension income. And in Bolivia (46), despite being one of the poorest countries, it has had a progressive policy environment for older people for some time, with a National Plan on Ageing, free healthcare for older people, and a non-contributory universal pension.
Since 1975, annual Social Security raises have averaged 4.1 percent, the AP reported. Only six times have COLAs been less than 2 percent, including this year, when the increase was 1.7 percent. And because inflation was too low in 2010 and 2011, there was no COLA.
Meanwhile, with Washington in distress from a government shutdown, and with defaulting on the nation's debt less than a week away, seniors should worry at reports today that evangelical Texas Senator Ted Cruz, the darling of Tea Party Americans, and Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska whose place on the GOP ticket in 2008 sank the chances of John McCain in his matchup against Barack Obama that year, marched to the White House Sunday as part of a Tea Party protest. Carrying Confederate flags, according to one report, Cruz and Palin accused the president of using war veterans as pawns in the two-week-old federal government shutdown.
One speaker from a Tea Party outside group allegedly told the crowd to "demand that this president leave town [...] put the Quran down, to get up off his knees, and to figuratively come out with his hands up."
With this kind of dysfunction, seniors 60-years and older should worry that AgeWatch's next index doesn't have America slipping further down if Republicans like Cruz and Boehner win their battle to shrink government by cutting Social Security benefits or helping to privatize it, as Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan suggested doing and President George W. Bush tried but failed to do at the start of his second term in 2005.
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