So I realize I’ve been a bit sparse in my blogging, and wanted to give a bit of an update both simply to update readers and also to think through for myself where I’m at.
Family-wise, we moved Mom and Dad to an assisted living community not far from us, a little under a month ago.
We’ve got the basics sorted out — aides come in multiple times a day to help Dad with basic tasks and give Mom reminders, they have weekly housekeeping, and three meals a day in the restaurant. We’re still working on getting them to go to the activities (bingo, card games, movies, etc.) and the aides are supposed to be reminding and encouraging them to go but that hasn’t quite worked out yet. The place we chose is fairly new and they’re still in the process of leasing it out, which meant on the one hand that there were larger apartments available — they are in one that had enough room in the bedroom for all their bedroom furniture plus a computer desk, as well as a living room, a kitchenette, and a balcony, where other more established places had wait lists for everything but studios — but at the same time there’s not a track record so we have to hope that in the long run we’re satisfied with not just the size of the apartment but resident care and programming.
We also spent some time getting some things sorted out in terms of furniture, replacing their old armchairs with newer, Facebook Marketplace purchases that were in much better condition and then, since their couch was simply too big for the apartment but they needed a sleeper option for my sister to use when she comes into town, buying a used “sleeper loveseat” on Facebook — a piece that’s in-between a large armchair and a loveseat in size and opens out to a twin bed. Still on the list is hanging the rest of their pictures and getting some shelves for their knick-knacks. We also had to switch their health insurance from a Medicare Advantage policy to a standard Medicare + Supplement + Part D because in the particular county they are now in, the only Medicare Advantage policy available was an HMO and I didn’t feel comfortable with that, for people who can’t advocate for themselves to be sure they have in-network doctors and follow the pre-authorization process correctly.
And they seem to be reasonably satisfied with their new living arrangement, but it’s also difficult to tell, in the same way as it’s difficult to tell what makes two 80 year olds with dementia happy about anything. They saw a movie and Mom described it as “about a baby dog that grows up” and we don’t think she really understood much of what went on in the movie. We took them to dinner and the menu had so many choices that we really had to steer Dad, who ended up ordering the same thing as I did. But if you leave them in their now-familiar surroundings of their apartment, they seem reasonably normal.
They also live 15 – 20 minutes away from us, and I’ve made a number of midweek trips up just to bring things over, stop by at the drug store to pick items up, and so forth, as well as weekend meals which we intend to be a part of the new routine (either dinner at a restaurant near them, or pick them up and bring them over for lunch or dinner plus card-playing or another activity).
But the whole thing has me thinking about the whole “aging in place,” because they are unquestionably better off having aides “on call” and activities in the building than an aide in the home for long periods of time, and certainly better off than simply being alone. Yet the whole mantra of “age in place” and the cultural support for “staying in the Family Home” undoubtedly contributed to their conviction, held for so long, that they couldn’t consider a move. So I even started to write a Forbes series on this but got distracted.
Professionally, I’ve been doing a lot of plugging away about retirement and pensions at Forbes. Am I getting anywhere? It’s hard to say. I certainly haven’t had any big breakthroughs — no one offering me that dream job, no great new insight in something that I’ve written that means that people are begging me for the rights to reprint it, or the like. I did get something I wrote accepted in a sort of contest that means I’ll go to DC in October, and after tirelessly flogging an article on Chicago pensions on twitter, I have a meeting with someone who may or may not be a person of any significance with respect to pension reform. I go back and forth on the question, “should I try to get involved in politics in a more conventional manner?” for instance by aligning myself with the local Republican party but I want to be able to flog the cause of pension reform without being identifiable by party affiliation.
So I tell myself, “in at least the short- to medium-term, I can’t measure my achievements in the conventional manner of job title or wage or even annual earnings (no, I have not yet figured out how to trigger the algorithm that gets my articles into applicable news feeds frequently enough to earn substantial cash from the Forbes writing gig; that’s more about building an audience and a body of work and having a schedule to keep me at least somewhat on-task) but I can set other goals for myself.” And the trouble is that those goals range from the merely ambitious to the preposterous, and they go as follows:I want to play a substantial role in getting pension reform in Illinois and Chicago, both by writing about it at Forbes with clear explanations that are grounded in fact rather than hyperbole, and by making connections among pundits and politicians. The last part is coming more slowly than I’d like: I had a long conversation on the topic with a staffer for Bill Daley, mayoral candidate, but he, alas, didn’t make it into the runoff, let alone win the election, and I’ve yet to get the attention of actual mayor Lightfoot.
Am I crazy to think that I can make a meaningful contribution here? Chicago’s pension plans are a combined 23% funded; if they chicken out of their current funding schedule, which boosts contributions up to a very unpleasant level in terms of the amount of money that it drains from city coffers, they go insolvent in 2027 — or sooner if the market doesn’t cooperate.
I did a lot of analysis on the plans — as much as I can without some FOIA requests. I think I can offer a much more meaningful analysis of the current situation than the bland, useless statements like “duh, the city should have paid its contributions.” And I can do so without the baggage that the current actuaries bring with them (though, admittedly, the plan actuaries are the ones to produce concrete numbers on what alternative benefits would do to the plan liabilities).
I want to flog my Social Security reform proposal until it gets traction. How exactly I’m not quite sure (though, for what it’s worth, my article yesterday that promotes this got 35,000 pageviews, which is the second-highest number of all time), but periodically Congress makes noise about yet another Blue Ribbon commission on retirement. (Could I build up my image to the point of being appointed a commission member? Unlikely. But I can imagine being a staffer of some sort.) When I’m cynical, I say that Congress simply won’t reform Social Security but will simply hand over whatever sum of general revenues are necessary to avoid benefit cuts otherwise required by law when the Trust Fund is empty. And I know our system of government is thoroughly broken right now, with each party making plans to implement its most extreme agenda upon gaining filibuster-proof full control of Congress and refusing to compromise with the other side until then. But there are so many examples of other countries which have reformed Social Security that I simply refuse to accept the assertion that the US is fundamentally incapable of doing likewise. (And, no, a plan such as Warren’s in which benefits are boosted and funded by tax hikes on the wealthy does not constitute “reform.”)
And I want to be a part of the process that gets the US to some sort of pooled, risk-sharing quasi-defined benefit pension system, as a successor to employer-sponsored defined benefit plans. I have written a fair bit about multi-employer plans and, while the pending insolvency is something that needs to be fixed very soon, there is a much bigger picture here: multi-employer plans are the closest we have to this sort of risk-sharing model, but with a number of serious flaws. If these flaws are fixed and these plans can operate sustainably in the long term, then we have a model for a pooled-risk plan that could be expanded beyond their union-sponsored roots to something usuable by the wider American people.
So, yes, instead of unachievable monetary goals, I have unachievable political goas. But, eh, it is what it is – and, hey, in a small bit of success, my most recent article set a new non-Andrew-McCabe pageview high. But that’s not truly replicable so I just keep plugging away.
In any event, one thing I haven’t succeeded with to the degree that I’d like is writing on other topics — and partly that’s because summer activities, and researching assisted living communities, kept me busy but at this point I don’t have as much of an excuse. It’s so much easier to “stockpile” half-finished drafts than it is to really dig into other topics — and it’s been a while since an article idea really jumped out at me as “wow, that’s perfect for The Federalist.”
So that’s where I am. And now it’s time to chase the kids on getting ready for school, write a shopping list (since I skipped that this weekend) and generally get on with the day.
Oh, and over the weekend we went out on the sailboat and, unlike the last time I joined the family on the boat, the wind was exactly right, the ginger capsules may or may not have also helped, and we all had a nice sail.