Wednesday, April 02, 2008

PBS: "The Retirement Revolution"

On April 1, PBS aired the first of a two-part series “The Retirement Revolution” with Paula Zahn, sponsored by MassMutual, link here.

The film started with a history of the variable nature of eldercare arrangements. In earlier societies, one’s children were one’s “eldercare” and “retirement” insurances. The program pointed out that some families today still make those kinds of arrangement with specific family members, who agree to stay close to home to take care of elderly relatives in return for getting the inheritance. The program also traced early attempts at providing pensions, such as with European and colonial guilds.

During the industrial revolution, governments gradually came to understand that society was transforming and that the “family” should not be expected to continue complete “filial responsibility.” Over time, the problems were quite severe, and the aged wound up in “poor houses.” The program did not cover this, must many states passed “poor laws” or “filial responsibility laws” that would force adult children to be financially responsible for their parents and sometimes other relatives.

Germany experimented with old age programs in the late 19th Century, but it was not until the Great Depression that there was enough political pressure in the United States to socialize the risk of age. In the early days of social security, there was an intention that men could retire at 60. The earliest beneficiaries did not pay in. Disability insurance was added in 1956, and Medicare in 1965. After Medicare was available, families felt less exposed to the medical risks of their elderly, although Medicare does not cover long term custodial care.

The program discussed the various components of Medicare, including the notorious “doughnut hole” in drug coverage.

Toward the end, the program discussed the modern concept of baby boomer “active” retirement.

On the East Coast, the program aired at the same time as ABC’s “Live to Age 150” so I had to record it first.

Update: April 7

The second half was aired this evening. It showed how a financial planner makes his living, and showed a retired man enjoying his model railroads. It explained how 401K's came about by accident, when one person noticed a provision in the tax code (Section 401K), and employers picked up on the idea of replacing defined contribution plans with 401K's.

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