In a follow-up to my previous post I thought I’d eleaborate on why I think that the social contract between generations in this country is being broken.
This article details the trevails facing those on their quest for higher education and the institutional responses to the costs that grow faster than inflation.
To stay alive, these schools are firing personnel, increasing class size, snuffing courses, limiting enrollment and cutting out some majors. But most of all, they’re hiking their tuition and fees. Tom Mortenson, a higher-education policy analyst, calls this “creeping privatization.” If the public can’t or won’t pay enough for state schools (“no new taxes”), then the students must.
Within the ideological spectrum of debate there are some who would say that these institutional responses are entirely appropriate as free-market responses. That’s all well and good if we render the social contract null and void and release the students from further financial obligations to the elder citizenry of the country, but rather than doing so, we’re burdening them and their children with ever increasing future obligations. The social contract is becoming a one-way street and the obligations are borne by one generation with the benefits flowing to another.
Now of course there is an ideological debate in this country on the scope and role of government and on redistributive tax policies. What strikes me as shortsighted and hypocritical is the different policy prescriptions accorded to Medicare/Prescription Drug Coverage and Education. It’s clearly evident that these two programs serve two distinct demographic groups seperated by decades of life span.
I consider the disparate levels of commitment to these programs to be hypocritical because the success of Medicare is dependent on the success of Education and to shortchange the latter is to further jeopardize the viability of the former.
You can see it in the numbers. In 1973, 40.5 percent of the students receiving federal Pell Grants (for the needy) attended four-year public schools. In 2001, that portion was only 31 percent. More of the needy went to community colleges instead.
Before I contiinue my analysis of why funding to assist students in their education should be enhanced, let me first take a moment to examine what such an endeavor would entail.
Let’s take the 1973 level of 40.5 % of students receiving Pell Grants attending 4-year institutions as the goal for today’s generation. Thus a further 9.5% of students would need increased financial assistance to attend a 4-year institution.
Tuition hikes have reached double digits. Two-year publics raised their charges by an average of 13.8 percent last year (to $1,905), according to the College Board. That brings the increase to 53 percent over the past decade—nearly twice the inflation rate. Four-year tuitions were up 14.1 percent (to $4,694—and $10,636 including room and board). That’s an 85 percent jump over the past 10 years.
So 30.5% of students are able to meet the $10,636 4-year expense and I’m going to asssume that the 9.5% shortfall of students we’re targeting are enrolled in community colleges but would rather be in a 4-year institution.
Federal aid doesn’t buy nearly as much education as it used to. When the Pell program began, the maximum grant, for the poorest students, covered 84 percent of the cost of a public four-year college. Today, at $4,050, it covers only 39 percent. The maximum federally subsidized student loan hasn’t risen in a decade.
I’m going to look at two scenarios. The first is to make up the difference in tuition that separates the community college ($1,905) from the 4-year institution ($4,694), which amounts to $2,789 per year. The second is to restore Pell Grants, for the poorest students, to the point where they can cover 84% of the cost of a 4-year institution, rather than the current 39%, and this amounts to ($10,636 * 0.84) $8,934 per year.
In the first scenario, the student would expect an increase in aid of $11,156 for a 4-year educational program. In the second scenario, the poorest of students, would expect to receive in increase of aid amounting to $35,736 over 4 years.
Both are big aid increases. Are they worth it? Let’s see.
I’m going to do some back of the envelope calculations rather than a completely sound methodological study. I’m going to assume that this increased aid to the student will be taxed back over a 30 year period so it would be appropriate to use the 30-year T-Bill rate that is currently at 5.38% and I’m going to treat it much like a mortgage.
Now that we have an idea of the costs involved in expanding access to higher education let’s go back to the issue of why a society should make these opportunities available to those who can’t afford them.
Here is some data on Median Annual Income by Level of Education. In the year 2000, men with an Associate’s Degree earned a median income of $41,952 and those with a Bachelor’s Degree earned a median income of $56,334. Women with an Associate’s Degree earned a median income of $31,071 and those with a Bachelor’s Degree earned a median income of $40,415
Because this is a back-of-the-envelope exercise I’m just going to assume that this level of income will remain constant over the person’s working life and that salary differentials due to experience are already factored into the statistic.
The income differential, averaged between the sexes, amounts to $11,863 per year. The marginal tax rate for a single filer would be 28%. This would result in $276.80 per month more tax revenue. Furthermore, there would be an increase of $61.29 more in Social Security taxes and $14.33 in Medicare taxes per month.
All told, there would be an increase of tax revenue amounting to $352.42 per month for the entire working career of the individual. This compares to a cost of $62.51 for the first scenario mentioned above and a cost of $200.22 for the most generous assistance to help the poorest students attain a 4-year degree at the same level of sacrifice as that found in 1973.
In the first, modest scenario, the additional revenue generated via tax receipts, over a 30 year period, discounted by the T-Bill Rate is equal to a present value of $5,388.66. In the more generous second proposal, the present value is $2,829.00. Clearly, in both cases there is a compelling financial argument to be made for increasing access to higher education by easing the financial burden.
It’s unfortunate that students don’t have the voting clout of seniors for the case they can make for more financial aid is one that would actually contribute to the fiscal health of the nation. Seniors, on the other hand, do have voting clout and politicans are known to fear the wrath of this demographic. Unfortunately for all of us there are limited financial means to maintain the entitlement programs that are so dear to many of our fellow citizens and politicians have to make allocation decisions.
Under extreme pressure from the elderly they repeatedly have expanded entitlements for seniors without adjusting the acturial foundations for those programs.
The reason I like this blog and am pleased to be invited to post here is because the readership is willing to accept for discussion many topics that are difficult to raise in other forums for fear of being shouted down. Here all arguments are accepted if they are made with care and accuracy, no matter how many sacred cows are attacked. As I stated in my earlier post, the senior lobby is selfishly looking after its own interest to the detriment of their collective children and grandchildren. Imagine trying to argue this in another forum!
Maybe you don’t accept my thesis yet. Let me continue on with my analysis.
Consider this fact:
In Michigan, annual Medicaid services cost $907 per child but $9,615 per elderly adult. As the number of elderly who qualify for the program grows, so will the cost.
Consider how entitlement programs start. Usually they make financial sense, but mission creep and demographics turn them into tails that wag the dog. When Social Security started the worker to recipient ratio was 42:1
The very first recipient of Social Security in the United States was Ida Fuller, a legal secretary who retired in 1940. Before retirement, Miss Fuller and her employer had paid only $45.08 in Social Security taxes. By the time she died at age 100, she had collected more than $20,000 in Social Security benefits. The year Ida Fuller retired, there were 42 workers for every retiree. That’s why the tax rate needed back then was only 2 percent on the first $3,000 of wages. By the time Miss Fuller received the first cost-of-living increase in 1951, there were 16 workers for every retiree. And by the time she died in 1975, the ratio had fallen to 3.2 workers for every beneficiary. For the future, things look bleak. By the middle of the next century, the ratio is expected to fall still further, with only 1.5 to 2 workers for every beneficiary. That means each worker will be supporting two-thirds of the cost of an elderly person in addition to all other taxes and all other family responsibilities.
So the concept began modestly and the social contract between generations was quite tolerable to bear, and for the amount of suffering the entitlement alleviated, I’m sure that society thought it had done well. Unfortunately, a dependency and sense of entitlement developed and people expected more and more enhancements but were unwilling to pay for such enhancements themselves.
In recent years, there have been proposals to lower the Medicare-eligibility age and allow others—the uninsured and those aged 55–64—to buy into the program with a $300–400 monthly premium. Others have proposed raising the eligibility age, from 65 to 67, but many believe that the idea failed because it is unpopular with the elderly, who are a powerful lobbying force and tend to vote regularly and in great number.
You’ll note that a $400 monthly premium is $4,800 per annum and this is less than half of the expected expense of $9,615 per adult in the Medicare system. Unlike the Educational Aid, which returns a net present value to society, most proposals that are directed at expanding Medicare are a direct drain on society.
The earliest data I can find on US population distribution is from 1950. Here is the population pyramid for that year. You’ll note that there were only 12,398,000 citizens over the age of 65, and they accounted for 8.1% of the populace and 14.12% were over 80 years of age.
Compare the situation in 1965 when Medicare received legislative approval. Here is the population pyramid. Now there were 18,451,000 citizens over the age of 65, accounting for 9.5% of the populace and 16.55% were in the over 80 age grouping.
In 1973, when the Pell Grant information noted above, enabled 40.5% of students to attend a 4-year institution, the population pyramid looked like this and there were now 21,523,000 citizens over the age of 65, accounting for 10.1% of the populace and those over the age of 80 accounted for 19.57% of the senior cohort.
Today, the population pyramid looks like this and there are 36,251,160 citizens over the age of 65, accounting for 12.4% of the population and those over 80 accounted for 28.71% of the senior cohort.
Here is more census data going back to 1900 (See page 170.)
Here is a lot more data on Medicare for 2001.
As should be evident, the proportion of the population drawing drawing Medicare is growing, and the over 80 group is growing as well. I’ve drawn particular attention to the increased longevity of our seniors for they incur a disproportionate share of Medicare expenses.
The social contract that was formed between generations never envisioned that Social Security and Medicare would grow to such gargantuan proportions, squeeze other programs which are directed at younger generations, and continue to grow to the point where 2 workers will be required to support each retired citizen.
Because Medicare funds rely on employee payroll taxes to pay for recipient services, the ratio of those employed to those drawing on Medicare benefits is crucial to maintaining future solvency. Currently, there are 3.7 workers for every person receiving Medicare benefits. HI Fund trustees calculate that there will be 2.4 workers for every retiree in 2030 and only 2 workers per retiree in 2075; each individual employee will be responsible for a far greater share in supporting each recipient.
With fewer workers to support Medicare recipients, one of three things will have to happen — either payroll taxes on the working population will need to be increased, or the government will need to pay a greater share, or the government will have to limit or change benefits.
As it is structured now, the cost to keep Medicare running will increase by 5.9 percent in 2003 and then 6.8 percent annually over the next ten years. Considering Medicare in the broader picture of the federal budget, the CBO sees Medicare costs increasing from 2.5 percent of the 2002 GDP to 9.2 percent of the GDP in 2075.
Now Medicare has been expanded to include Prescription Drug Coverage and:
For the period 2004 through 2013, CBO estimates that spending for prescription drugs by and on behalf of the Medicare population will total roughly $1.8 trillion, or nearly 50 percent of the projected $3.9 trillion in Medicare outlays over that same period.
The drug coverage will be an unfunded liability of nearly $2 trillion. Look here for more information on future Medicare obligations.
So let me be blunt in my conclusion. The social contract that was formed in the New Deal, and when Mrs. Fuller received the first Social Security benefit in 1940 has been transformed into intergenerational theft. As a society we are avoiding some very difficult choices on our ability to have it all. The voting power of the senior lobby is impressive and afterall, who among us wouldn’t fight for benefits if our lives and quality of life were at stake. As Alexis de Tocqueville noted “The American Republic will endure, until politicians realize they can bribe the people with their own money” and our politicians are hard pressed to manage our affairs in a fiscally responsible manner.
By avoiding making some hard choices, benefits will continue to flow to the senior-aged demographic, thus robbing us of vitality in the younger generations and inhibiting the development of the very wealth producing qualities (i.e. education and child health care) that could lessen the trauma we will encounter in future years as we support our elderly.
As Governor Richard Lamm has already pointed out, the elderly have a duty to die. This of course is a hard concept to realize because the social contract is still maintained and our seniors do not conceptually connect their demands for more entitlements to the robbing of other, more productive, and fiscally responsible, programs.
If our social contract wasn’t depersonalized via the social welfare model, and instead there was a life-long savings program or family support for our elderly, then the extreme costs and sacrifices that the children and grandchildren had to make on behalf of the elderly would be plainly evident. When it is your grandchild who can’t afford to go to college because you need a expensive medical treatment regime after your heart transplant, then the sacrifices become more real.
No one is advocating some cruel policy to neglect the health and well-being of our respected elders, but when our elders show no shame in their blatant demands for more of our taxes and are thus sapping future generations of their potential, then this activity has to be called to everyone’s attention. We can’t afford to have it all. There have to be limits and sometimes those limits mean that we can’t afford to offer a medical procedure which is available. The elderly have had full lives. The future belongs to their grandchildren and they deserve the best start in life that we can offer them.