Columns 2015

Senior citizens are a valuable resource

I was a bit taken aback at the vehemence expressed by some commenters on my column last week towards seniors in this state. Who knew some viewed us with such dislike? According to these commenters, cutting senior benefits will cause us to leave the state, thus saving the state enormous amounts of money spent on our pensions and tax exemptions. Before kicking us all to the curb, however, let’s review some of the things seniors provide that would be hard to replace.

As I wrote last week, we should all share the pain of budget reductions. Seniors are not exempt from that. But even if benefits are reduced, a lot of seniors will stay here anyway because this is our home and we still have something valuable to offer. So while taking away some economic incentives may force certain seniors to relocate for financial reasons, many of us will just tighten our belts and stay put.

Look at the benefits that accrue to children who have their grandparents, great grandparents, and great aunts and uncles (honorary or otherwise) in their lives. For working parents, retired grandparents are a lifesaver when kids get sick and parents can’t take off from work. Or kids need a ride to an after school activity and parents have to work late. Or kids just need an adult they trust to talk to about something and don’t want to talk to their parents. Grandparents often take up the slack created by an economy that almost requires a two working parent household. They cook meals, watch kids, attend events and are an integral and vital part of family life. Everyone benefits.

If that doesn’t do it for you, look at the multitude of non-profits in this state. Check out how many of them keep their doors open because of seniors who not only work for free, but often bring a lifetime of experience and expertise that the non-profit could never otherwise afford. It’s retired seniors who have the time to spend at these non-profits, even in the middle of the week. There are lots of young people who also volunteer but their time is limited by work and family demands. It’s seniors who can respond to a last minute call for someone to cover a shift or deliver a meal or help out with a program.

Seniors hold the institutional memory for this state. We are a young state, blessed to still have some who were here at the beginning. Imagine having John Adams or Thomas Jefferson around to ask what was really being discussed back in 1776. Well, we have Vic Fischer, for one, and he can tell us exactly what was said at our constitutional convention because he was there. We have elders at our Native corporations, both profit and non-profit, who can speak knowledgeably about the corporations’ beginnings because they began them. This is not something to be lightly tossed away.

Equally important given the financial situation we’re in, many seniors have disposable income that they spend right here in this state. Those of us who were lucky enough to earn a state pension often take the money we receive each month and plow it right back into the local economy. We’ve reached an age where saving for old age is a bit silly since we’re already there. Now we get to do what we said we’d do all those years ago when we started saving. We get to spend it. Without kids to feed or homework to do, we’re much more likely to be the ones keeping the restaurant and art scene vibrant. We can afford to.

As I said at the beginning, the pain of budget cuts will be felt by all of us in one way or another. Some seniors will be able to weather a cut in their benefits. Others will have to leave. Some young people will look at the benefits we receive as the Baby Boomers having taken care of themselves when they were in charge of government by voting themselves a helluva retirement package. Whatever your view is, just remember this. We may be old. We may be gray under the hair dye. Our bones may squeak a bit and our eyes may squint a little more. But we are not freeloaders. Retired or not, we contribute to Alaska every day. Lose us and you’ll lose that.