Have you had “the talk” with your mother or father? You know, the one where you try to convince them to quit driving? It represents everything we fear about aging. How can you stay in the house you have lived in for years if you can’t drive to the grocery store? How can you keep up with your friends and family? What about getting to doctor's appointments? How can you afford it?
Some older people have the resources to afford appropriate housing, transportation and health care. Even then, helping a parent or loved one deal with the difficulty of not being able to drive, to remember to take the right medications, and moving out of their home into some kind of “facility,” is emotionally and often physically draining. The sad truth is that more and more of us face these difficulties without enough money. Many of us ask, “Will we outlive our finances?”
While most people do not have enough to retire comfortably, our political leaders are enacting an agenda decimating the services people need as they get older. They have enacted tax cuts that concentrate wealth among the wealthiest Americans while burdening the rest of us with debt. They have starved public services from the federal to the local level, leaving many people, particularly older people, on their own.
They have refused to invest in the future, choosing instead to crush young people with debt. They have failed to maintain our infrastructure. They not only refuse to do anything about climate change, they won’t even acknowledge it exists.
Additionally, many on pensions see their benefits cut or pensions eliminated as companies merge, sell or go bankrupt. Believing you had security in retirement with your pension is no longer a certainty in America.
Up next: Social Security and Medicare. Using the euphemism of “entitlement reform,” they tell us these programs are not sustainable, riddled with inefficiency and fraud. It’s ironic they say that while enacting tax cuts which benefit the super-rich, strangle public institutions and saddle our children with debt. Social Security and Medicare prevent millions of people, particularly the elderly, from falling into poverty. Simple truth, if Social Security and Medicare are cut, millions of us will have rethink when, how and if we can retire.
At the same time, Montana’s population is getting older. Shockingly, Montana is the third-oldest state, just behind Maine and New Hampshire. Nearly 30 percent of Montanans are 55 or older, and that will only increase in the coming years. Even more important is that Montanans 55 and older make up over 40 percent of registered voters.
Montanans must let our leaders know we want a future that guarantees basic economic security for all. We don’t want increasing numbers of older Montanans falling into poverty. We want a future that allows young people to pursue education without crippling debt. We are not interested in leaving environmental degradation for future generations to deal with — if they can. In sum, we are not interested in a future defined by the hard-hearted and mean-spirited attitudes of our current political leaders.
We are creating a strong new voice to engage Montanans 55 and older: Big Sky 55+. It will advocate for progressive policies such as health care and economic security for all. Big Sky 55+ will focus on organizing all Montanans 55 and older in our urban, rural and reservation communities. We plan a multi-issue program that will advocate for a broad range of critical issues of concern to Montana seniors.
Carol Juneau, chair of Big Sky 55+, is a retired educator and former Montana state senator. Ken Toole, vice chair, is a former Montana state senator and Public Service Commissioner.