Politics & Prejudices: Good luck retiring … ever

Well, we now have a vulgar, brawling carnival barker sitting where Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln once did.

"May none but honest and wise men ever rule under its roof," John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail when he became the first president to move in, back in 1800.

Much later, one of the best of those who followed him, Franklin D. Roosevelt, had those words carved into the mantel over the fireplace in the State Dining Room.

They read like a sad parody now. Now that it is no longer fashionable to beat up on poor Hillary Clinton, I finally want to beat up on her. Not for the usual reasons, but for this:

Where the hell has she been since the election? Normally, indeed, those who lose an election are supposed to fade away into the shadows. And that's just as it should be.

Nobody wanted to see Mike Dukakis, ever again. But this is entirely different. Yes, she may have run a bad campaign and failed to energize voters, or offer them anything new. Yes, she "lost" according to the arcane rules of the vestigial and now harmful creation called the Electoral College.

Nevertheless, a clear plurality of the American people wanted her. Not him. Remember these numbers:

Clinton: 65,844,954. Trump: 62,979,879.

We wanted her, not him.

Nor was this just another Democrat vs. Republican election. They didn't swear in Jeb Bush or John Kasich or any of the other, play-by-the-rules and cater-to-the rich guys.

They swore in somebody who couldn't care less about what America really is, or what the Constitution stands for, or about the average people need or want or hope.

We have instead a narcissistic egomaniac, who both by his own words and by the record of those he's appointed indicates he intends to destroy many of the programs we've held sacred.

Hillary Clinton should have been in Warren nine days ago with Bernie Sanders, rallying the troops. "Look, you can blame me if you want to, and I'm never going to run again for anything," she might have told the nation.

"This man became president by a legitimate kink in the system, but far more of those who voted in November voted not only for me, but voted against everything he stands for.

"That's what matters. We must rally to save what is precious to all of us now."

Sadly, Clinton did not do that. Instead, she essentially disappeared, leaving the field to others to defend as well as we can what she had told us she cared about.

Which is exactly what we must do from this point forward: Fight to keep democracy, and what matters. Fight every day, in a thousand ways — not just with showy marches and demonstrations, though those have their place.

Which brings me to the today's topic: How would you like to learn that you may never be able to retire, not until you keel over pushing that broom at Wal-Mart in your late 80s, or so?

Believe it or not, that's the future many of us may well be facing. Back in the early 1980s, 401(k) plans, essentially individual retirement accounts, were being pushed hard as a way in which workers and their employees could supplement their pensions. Sounded like a sweet idea.

Employees could agree to have a certain amount of tax-deferred income taken from their checks and invested for them. In some cases, employers even matched their contributions.

Except that, soon enough, employers used these plans as an excuse to get rid of pensions entirely. Twenty years ago, Gov. John Engler managed to get the legislature to eliminate pensions for all new state workers, who got 401(k)s instead.

He also tried and failed to do the same for teachers. Today, new teachers qualify for a "blended" retirement plan, part of which is a traditional, if diminished, pension.

Part is a 401(k). Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, probably the worst human being in the legislature, badly wants to force school districts to end pensions for new teachers too.

When asked if this wouldn't hurt the schools' ability to keep good teachers, Meekhof, who has no college degree, shrugged and said he didn't think people stayed in jobs very long these days. So far he's failed to screw over new teachers.

But there's a lot of evidence we are all screwed. Back in 1980, nearly two-fifths of all American workers had some form or pension. According to The Wall Street Journal, only about 1 out of 8 employees qualify for a pension these days.

Meanwhile, there are still 74 million surviving baby boomers in this nation, closing fast on retirement age. The oldest of them is 71, the youngest in their mid-50s.

And very, very few of them (including me) are anything like ready for retirement. Financial experts say that before you retire, you should have something like eight times your annual income saved. Ho ho. Almost nobody does.

A recent survey by the New School's Center for Policy Analysis in New York showed even the top 10 percent of earners had median retirement savings of less than two years income.

These are people between the ages of 50 and 64. The poorer half had median retirement assets of barely $25,000. Try getting through your golden years on that.

If anything, the picture in Michigan is even grimmer than the national average. Tom Jankowski is associate director for research at Wayne State University's Institute of Gerontology. He knows grim times are likely coming.

"Social Security is under repeated threat from the right," he told me, adding that even if it survives unscathed, "currently, about one-third of Michigan seniors subsist almost entirely on Social Security benefits," a figure which he expects to grow significantly.

"I would not be surprised to find that, within the next 15 to 20 years, 40 to 50 percent of Michigan retirees will depend upon Social Security alone to live," he told me.

That's not easy, especially if you take benefits early — or if you don't qualify for full benefits, like many women who raised children or cared for elderly parents and relatives.

Even for those older boomers who worked forever, full benefits at age 66 amount to only about $2,445 a month.

You get a good bit more if you can hold out to 70, but many can't afford that. I know a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who had to take Social Security at age 62, and is now renting out the family home to make ends meet.

The ultimate irony of all this was expressed in a Wall Street Journal story earlier this month that detailed how some of the investment geniuses who pushed 401(k)s hard back in the early 1980s now bitterly regret what they did.

One of them, Herbert Whitehouse, saw his 401(k) head south during the Great Recession. Now, he believes he'll have to work until his mid-70s, at least. Know what he wishes for?

And old-fashioned pension, like the one he helped destroy. "A pension is pretty valuable," he told the newspaper.

No shit. Tell us about it. See you in the dog food aisle.

Ain't it the truth

Mark Dobias, an irreverent and very good lawyer in Sault Ste. Marie, wrote me to observe that: "The only place one finds truth these days is in the dictionary. It is found between Trump and tyranny."

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