By Sikivu Hutchinson
At 79, living in a subsidized senior apartment complex near USC which takes a quarter of her $2,000 a month Social Security check, my grandmother is one of the lucky ones. Though budgeting fiercely with coupons to make ends meet she does not yet have to take a late-in-life job to supplement her tiny check like many seniors. At 72, the Republican senior presidential candidate, who regularly trots out his 90-something mother to show his genetic inheritance of longevity, kicked seniors to the curb this week by proclaiming the funding of Social Security a “disgrace.” In John McCain’s world younger workers really shouldn’t be burdened with the obligation of paying into a system that won’t immediately benefit them. Like Bush in 2005 McCain is toying with the idea of privatizing Social Security by allowing workers to invest in private accounts. Bush’s failed plan was roundly rejected by senior’s rights groups and attacked as an abuse of what little remains of the American social safety net. Adherents of Adam Smith’s invisible hand are advised to check out Britain’s disastrous pension privatization system in which worker contributions were swallowed up by maintenance fees and more elderly citizens were ending up homeless. The British have since returned to government oversight.
The notion that Social Security is a radical encroachment is part and parcel of the conservative assault upon the very New Deal entitlements that contributed to economic stability for white Middle America. Due to the wealth gap that exists between whites and people of color, seniors of color are among the most vulnerable to rising food prices, soon to be $5.00 a gallon gas, mounting mortgage debt and exorbitant rent. McCain’s hypocritical disdain for the funding mechanism of Social Security and for the livelihood of seniors is not surprising coming from a politician whose ascent has been bankrolled by the beer empire of his multimillionaire wife. As McCain and his wife Cindy enjoy Gilded Age dividends on their investments, the disappearance of defined benefit plans and living wage jobs has made Social Security a virtual life raft for older working class and middle class Americans increasingly employed in service work as clerks, cashiers and custodians.
Elderly women in particular, due to their lower wages and less time in the workforce than men, are more likely to rely on Social Security for basic subsistence than are men. For most black women, all but invisible in such low wage occupations as food service, airport baggage handling or daycare, remaining on the job or returning to work past sixty-five is not an option but a necessity. Frequently entrusted with caring for grandchildren or other dependents, including those who are in and out of foster care, older women of color are on the frontlines of both the sub-living wage and child care crisis.
While Barack Obama’s job creation plan is nebulous, McCain’s is nonexistent; his prescription for growth consisting of a fiscally insane array of tax cuts headed by a decrease in taxes for corporations, a pipe dream panacea for job growth which would ultimately boost the bulging portfolios of wealthy seniors like himself. By indulging McCain’s monomaniacal emphasis on foreign policy the mainstream media has let him slide by without addressing how average and poor Americans dumped on by the mortgage crisis will benefit from his oligarchy-enriching tax plan. For my grandmother and the rest of America’s spendthrift seniors lapping up their transportation, food and utility bill expenses from the public trough, McCain has a hale and hearty message—let them drink beer.
Sikivu Hutchinson is the editor of blackfemlens.org and a commentator for KPFK 90.7 F.M.