Transcript: Sen. Bernie Sanders on the recession and older Americans

Sen. Bernie Sanders held a hearing yesterday examining the impact of the 2007 recession on older Americans, particularly those heavily reliant on Social Security and Medicare benefits.

U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions
Hearing on the Recession and Older Americans
Oct. 18, 2011

Transcript of Opening Statement by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT):

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). PHOTO SOURCE:

“This country, as I think we all know, is in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Sixteen percent of our people are unemployed or under-employed. Median family income has declined by over $3,000 in the last decade, and almost of all of new income has gone to the people at the very top – the top 1%.

“In the midst of all of this, it is enormously important that we ask a question that has not been asked enough in my opinion. And that is what does this recession mean for older Americans? How are they faring in the midst of this terrible recession? What is the employment situation for people in their 60s? Most working Americans expect to be working throughout their entire lives. How many workers in their 60s have lost their jobs, have seen a decline in their incomes? And very importantly, how many older American workers who have lost their jobs are never ever going to get another job? What does that mean to the economy? What does it mean to the standard of living of that worker, both economically and psychologically. If you anticipated working until a retirement age of 65 and now you’re 61, and you’re never going to get another job in your life. That’s one of the issues that we are going to be talking about today.

“Another very important question that I don’t think has been asked enough that needs some answers today is how do you survive economically in these tough times if say you get $12,000 in Social Security and that’s all or virtually all of your income and you don’t receive a COLA [cost of living adjustment] for the last two years? What does that mean to you?

“Furthermore, and this is an enormously important issue that needs a whole lot of discussion, does the current formulation for Social Security COLAs adequately reflect the purchasing habits of senior citizens? I can tell you that in Vermont I hear over and over again from senior citizens who tell me, “Bernie, I don’t quite understand how they think that there has been no inflation when my prescription drug costs are soaring, my health care costs are soaring, and we don’t get a COLA.” Is the current formulation regarding COLAs adequate? That becomes very important because I think tomorrow or the very near future we’re going to be hearing what COLAs, if any, our seniors will be receiving. Is the current formulation adequate or do we need a new formulation that better reflects the purchasing needs of seniors?

“According to information that we will be receiving today, and this is really rather stunning, the bottom 20% of senior citizens in our country live on incomes of less than $12,080 a year. Let me repeat that: bottom 20% of seniors in this country – millions of people – live on incomes of less than $12,080 a year. In fact, the average income for a senior in the bottom 20% is about $7,500. I hope our distinguished panelists will explain to me and the American people how any person in this country, let alone a senior with specific needs often regarding health care, can survive in the year 2011 on $7,500 a year.

“Now importantly, and let’s be frank about this, as many Americans know, there is a major effort on the part of some in Congress, especially in the Republican-led House of Representatives, to make major cuts in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the LIHEAP [Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program] heating assistance program, community health centers, affordable housing, nutrition programs. Now if these cuts were to take place, what impact would they have on seniors?

“Now, my office learned yesterday that Sen. [Rand] Paul, the ranking member, would not be here this morning, and I’m disappointed by that. I hope he or some other Republicans will, in fact, come to this hearing this morning to talk about these important issues, because I’ll tell you it is very easy to get up on the floor of the Senate and to announce how you’re in favor of cutting Social Security, cutting Medicare, cutting Medicaid, cutting heating assistance, but it may be a little bit harder to learn what the impact those cuts will mean on real human beings, what kind of suffering will take place, and how many people perhaps will die as a result of those cuts.

“So this is an important hearing, and I look very much forward to hearing the testimony from the GAO and from our other distinguished panelists.”



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3 Comments on “Transcript: Sen. Bernie Sanders on the recession and older Americans

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