A Meaner, More Selfish Nation

Second in a Series

When my mother was in high school, her father died of a brain aneurism. With no pension, no income and no way to pay the bills, my mother was forced to quit school and get a job to support her family. Years later, after she got married, she and my father began looking to buy a house. My grandmother, fearing being left alone, asked them if they wanted to buy her home. Allowing grandma to stay in the home was sort of an unspoken agreement. Back in the day, many homes were multi-generational and a lot of us grew up with grandparents in the home. For years my parents wrote a check every month to my grandmother and she would get dressed up and take the bus downtown to spend the day seeing a movie, shopping, having lunch and buying a bag of candy to hide in her dresser. My parents continued to give Grandma a check every month for the rest of her life, long after the mortgage was paid off, I’m sure. Grandma passed away at the age of 86 in the bedroom she had slept in for most of her life.

My parents never begrudged the fact that they were grandma’s support. In fact, the third pair of hands and unlimited love surely helped out as their young family grew. My father, however, decided that people should not have to worry about becoming destitute when they lost their spouse or their job, so, as a member of a union, he began to bargain with his company for pensions that would allow retirees and their spouses to live comfortably after a lifetime of service. He fought for disability insurance for people injured on the job, he fought for lifetime healthcare and he voted for candidates who would fight for these same benefits for all Americans: Social Security, SSI Disability Insurance, Medicare and Medicaid. After a lifetime of hard work, he retired with a safety net that not only allowed he and my mother to live comfortably after he retired, but with enough money to help his children when they needed it.

He passed away 10 years ago. My mother was able to stay in her home thanks to the safety net he had fought for during his lifetime. My mother passed away this past summer at 94 (in the same bedroom my grandmother had died in) and toward the end, we talked about how sad my father would be today if he could see all of the things he fought so hard for being dismantled by a new, more selfish generation that has never experienced the hardships their grandparents experienced. A generation that lived through a Great Recession instead of a Great Depression because this time we have Unemployment Insurance, food stamps, Medicaid and a welfare system that catches many people before they fall through the cracks.

If you think we no longer need organizations that support working men and women, look around you. Will your parents have to rely on you to support them once they retire? Will you fall into debt trying to pay their medical bills? Will you have to decide wether to pay for college for your children or use the money to pay for grandma’s care? If you’re lucky, your parents are “grandfathered in” (pun intended) and will be covered by the current system, but what about you? Are you ready to put that responsibility on your own children as YOU age into retirement?

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