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Peeved About My Parents' Predicament: class warfare and Medicare cuts

Written by Phill Wilson on 27 December 2011.

If asking billionaires and millionaires to pay taxes on luxury yachts and private jets is class warfare, then why isn't it class warfare when legislators propose to cut my parents' Social Security and undermine their Medicare? Already they have to make choices between paying their mortgage and buying the prescriptions that my mom needs for diabetes and my dad needs for high blood pressure--which he didn't have until he experienced the stress of financial hardship and began taking the additional medicines he needs to recover from his accident.
I've been spending a lot of time with my parents lately. In July my father was in serious industrial fire. He suffered third-degree burns on his upper body, had to have skin grafts on his arms and was in the ICU at the University of Chicago hospital for a month. The experience has provided me with enhanced insight into the challenges that our seniors are facing today.

My parents are 76 years old. They’ve worked hard their entire lives; they played by the rules; they raised a family. My parents believed owning real estate was a safeguard for retirement. They saved their money and he bought property. My parents were conservative. When others used their property as an ATM or a piggy bank, my parents paid down their mortgages. They didn’t refinance; they never took money out.

Unfortunately, they didn’t diversify either. Their plan was to sell their properties and use the proceeds to retire. They had No Plan B. 

The plan was not really a bad one, except for two things. My parents live in Chicago. Their property is in the middle of an area that would have been right in the heart of things had the Olympics come to Chicago. But Chicago lost its Olympic bid, and the housing market crashed.  My parent's retirement dream crashed with it. To exacerbate the problem, in anticipation of the Olympics, a robust real-estate market dramatically raised property taxes in “transitional" neighborhoods like the one my parents live in.

Between them, my parents receive $1,862 a month in Social Security payments. Without my father's income from working, that's their entire income. Out of that they have to pay their mortgage on their home, pay for utilities—their heating bill can be as high as $800 a month—buy groceries, and pay for health related expenses.

My parents did not contribute to America's economic crisis. The collapse of the real estate market was not their fault. They did not make a dime from the subprime scam. And while maybe one could argue that whether they were a part of creating the problem or not, we all have to be in the game, we all have to share the pain.  The operative word here is "all".  It is not fair that the burden of solving America's economic mess falls on the backs of my parents and others like them, while the Americans who have benefitted the most from decades of excess and greed are not required in the least to participate and share the pain of solving this problem.

Phill Wilson is the President and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, the only National HIV/AIDS think tank in the United States focused exclusively on Black people. Follow him on twitter @iamphillwilson. Mr. Wilson is also available for interviews and press inquiries. Contact him at or (213) 353-3610 ext. 105.