This editorial is the fourth in a series on issues facing Minnesota’s aging population.

“Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows” was penned by Shakespeare in 1610.

“Poverty has strange bedfellows” and “necessity makes strange bedfellows” were 19th Century adaptations leading up to the more familiar “Politics makes strange bedfellows” written in 1850 by Hartford, Connecticut, Courant editor Charles Warner.

No greater historic proof of the truth of these adaptions exists beyond the overwhelming Democrat/Republican congressional support of the 1935 Social Security Act and the Older Americans Act of 1965. Poverty, necessity and politics all played a role in passage of the 1935 Social Security Act with only 39 nays among the 527 Senate and House members. All three elements were also involved when the Older Americans Act passed in 1965 with only six nay votes from the 533 congressional members.

That both of these acts were passed because of unlikely alliances has great significance to the current Adams Publishing - ECM Editorial Board 2019 series “The Aging of Minnesota.” Poverty, necessity and politics are all present in the current aging issues. And, just as in 1935 and 1965, the problems are big and the solutions few.

Although impetus behind the development and eventual passage of the two acts was varied and complex, economic support for the needy (in particular the aged) was the leading motivator for both.

Social Security was born during the worst economic crisis in American history. Millions of people were unemployed. A majority of elderly lived in poverty and dependency.

The Older Americans Act came as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. It was fueled by data showing more than 19% of Americans were impoverished, including a disproportionate number of citizens over 60 years of age, and congressional concerns about the lack of community social services for senior citizens.

Over 80 years has passed since enactment of Social Security and over 50 years since passage of the Older Americans Act, and we are again facing the same dilemma, widespread incidents of elderly living in poverty.

Gloomy, if not dire, numbers have surfaced in the past five years showing that a large percentage of baby boomers (Americans born between 1946 and 1964) have inadequate funds to support themselves after retirement. Meeting the basic needs of this group (which could number in the thousands in Minnesota) will put a strain on public social systems and tax revenues. The reality and seriousness of this has experts forecasting calamity that will reach a head in the next 10 years.

Already, data from the Consumer Bankruptcy Project shows that bankruptcy filings by people 65 and older are climbing. There has been more than a twofold increase in the rate at which older Americans file for bankruptcy protection and almost fivefold jump in the percentage of older persons in the bankruptcy system.

“The social safety net for older Americans has been shrinking for the past couple decades,” according to the project’s 2018 report. “The risks associated with aging, reduced income and increased health care costs have been offloaded onto older individuals.”

It would seem that bold initiatives, similar to Social Security and the Older Americans Act, are needed once again. The enormity of the issues could cause “heads stuck in the sand” reactions by congressional leaders, but this is not a time for hesitancy or indecisiveness. The problems need solutions.

The same factors that made strange bedfellows necessary in 1935 and 1965 are back before us today. To not act or delay acting will result in thousands of elderly living in poverty with few options for relief.

This wasn’t something our political leaders accepted 80 and 50 years ago, and something we shouldn’t be tolerating today.

- An opinion of the Adams Publishing – ECM Editorial Board. Reactions welcome. Send to: editorial.board@ecm-inc.com.

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