Monday, September 22, 2008

Ad Mayoh V'Esrim

When we wish someone long life we add on ad mayoh v'esrim shanim--until 120 years. I don't know how we came to include this phrase or when but I do know that it was around in the time of my great grandmother in Europe in the late 1800s. But in my great grandmother's time the wish was rarely if ever granted. The majority of people in that time period were lucky to make it to the 50s or 60s of life.

Fast forward to today. Life expectancy for a woman in the US is 88 years of age, for a man 86 years of age. B'H we are living longer. But this older life expectancy is not without its problems. You see little, if anything, written about the aging members of Klal, and yet I believe that it is precisely these older generations that are key in many of the discussions we are having about the issues facing us, particularly the financial discussions.

Many, perhaps most of my generation, the children of the Holocaust survivor generation, did not have any grandparents when we were growing up; it was just us and our parents. Parents had just two things to focus on: themselves and their children. And then there is my generation. Many of us lost a parent early on in our lives; the inhuman stresses they endured during the war weakened many of them and left them with medical conditions that killed them relatively early. My father died shortly before my 30th birthday. My father in law died when my husband was 37. Many of our friends and acquaintances were in the same position. Today there are few left from that Holocaust generation. I scanned my phone book and of 27 couples who are either cousins or close friends, there are only 7 parents still living. My generation, unlike my parents' generation, are having to deal with the issue of aging parents, but in a very limited fashion. Still, at least some of us are having to balance aging parents, our needs and the needs of our children and grandchildren.

Now to my children's generation. They are juggling even more balls then my generation is. Some of them still have grandparents, people who are elderly and with many of the problems that can beset a person as they reach the truly older years. Their own parents are no longer youngsters. Many of their parents have reached retirement age and beyond and the others are getting close to it. Many have already had health issues of the type typical to an older population. This younger generation is also raising families, with all that entails today. They are having to deal with four generations living at the same time.

And then there is the generation after my children's generation. Some of the members of this generation are themselves close to marriageable age and becoming parents. It is quite conceivable that yet another generation will come into existence well before any of the generations before it are completely gone. If my first cousin's children follow in the footsteps of their parents then my cousin will be a great grandfather before he ever turns 65. And his dad is still living.

So what's the problem?, you ask. Time, money and community resources are not infinite. How these resources should be allocated needs to be thought of carefully. And in allocating those resources attention needs to be paid to the concerns, both now and in the future, of ALL the generations that are living.

Those of you who are in my children's generation are highly concerned with the cost of yeshiva tuition, and yes it impacts you tremendously. And one answer to this tuition "crisis," on the part of schools and on the part of parents, has been to ask grandparents for help in meeting tuition expenses, as well as helping out with buying homes etc. This is a shortsighted solution to the problem of tuition and "making it" in today's world. Let's not even mention that there are some in my children's generation who are being totally supported by their parents.

What is worse, the financial pressures on my children's generation has spawned talk about how retirement is not a Jewish concept (see my posting on this topic Such talk can only arise when another generation is counting on the generation before it to keep it afloat. We all hope for perfect good health for all the years we live. It's not the reality. As people hit their 60s they begin to experience health issues, some of a lesser nature, some of a major nature. Their physical strength begins to wane. And at a time in their life when they should be free to concentrate on themselves, on taking care of themselves, they can't, because they are still engaged in the "young persons" activities of supporting families. What is truly worse, money that should have been put away towards the time when they are older is being spent instead on children and grandchildren. Many of those heading into their 60s or older have exhausted their savings already, with nothing left for the future years; some are in debt, a debt they will not be able to repay.

The time is going to come when my generation retires, no matter how some may wish it won't happen. And if you think Klal has financial problems now you haven't seen anything yet like what may be coming down the road. Some in my generation are going to be just fine financially; a whole lot are not going to be so fine. If you think that having Social Security payments is all you need to live when you get older, you need some re-education (always supposing that Social Security manages to stay alive, never mind healthy, for the next few decades.) And there are going to be members of my generation who, at retirement, are going to be forced to choose: having sufficient money to take care of all their older needs, including possible specialized care in the years to come, or offering support money to their children and grandchildren and great grandchildren. What are yeshivas going to do when my generation no longer can be counted on to pour money into the educational system, even if indirectly? What will community organizations do when the Boomers have to look at themselves instead of helping out others?

How prepared are some of you, the generations younger than I am, to take on the time and expenses of caring for aging parents, lots of aging parents, while trying to take care of yourself, your children and your grandchildren at the same time? The baby boomer generation is huge in number; what has been done to prepare for when that generation becomes zekanim? In the not too distant future services and institutions and programs for the elderly of Klal are going to be competing head to head with yeshivot for the dollars of Klal. C'v that we should ever be put into the position of having to say either/or--either we can take care of our children or we can take care of the elderly. But if we are not to come to that position then our conversations today about yeshiva tuition, about the cost of educating our children, about camps and about all the concerns of the younger people among us has to include a discussion of what we are going to need for the future years vis a vis our older people. Hard decisions are going to have to be made about whether Klal can afford to maintain all the customs and practices of living that it has become accustomed to.

Let me leave you with this to think about. A friend is grappling with a huge problem right now. Her elderly mother required institutional care for 8 months. That care ran $22,000 per MONTH, not covered by medicaid, nor completely covered by supplemental insurance, including non-covered medical care. She now requires 24/7 live-in care in her apartment, in addition to other non-covered services. Her savings of a lifetime are depleted right now. Her daughter has been spending plenty of her own money in helping out her mom. Two of their kids are fully self-supporting, but the yeshiva their children go to is hurting for money and raising tuition to the breaking point, so they give money there. Thelr third child lives in Israel and is not fully self supporting. Money gets funneled there too. And this friend and her husband are both 65. They are fairly well-to-do people but a few weeks ago the wife made the comment "I'm glad people think that we print money in our basement. I don't see how we can keep up this way." I don't see how either. And then think of those who aren't "well-to-do." And that thought is chillingly scary, because this scenario is going to become way more common and very soon.


Anonymous said...

An excellent posting and a long overdue pointing out that we need to look at finances in more then the short term. We seem to get the "ateres zekanim bnai bonim" part and sometimes forget about the "v'tiferes bonim avosom" part.

Anonymous said...

Even planning ahead doesn't always help you. Older people who were counting on 5% interest on their savings to get by aren't seeing that interest today. Add in the huge cost of living increases of the past year and you have trouble. I know my parents are already helping out my grandparents and they are still relatively healthy. C'v if an illness comes up my parents are going to also have financial troubles. We kids can't help out financially because all of us are paying yeshiva tuitions and fresh mortgages. If there is a real answer somewhere I sure don't see it.

Anonymous said...

I agree this discussion is way over due. And no, it is not going to be an easy one or a very cordial one either. I saw this in my in law's family. Siblings are not necessarily all going to agree to how to pay for things or on who will have to take responsibility for older parents with health or money problems. Siblings may not all have the same amount of money or time to be able to give towards parent support. My FiL's father died a few years ago and some of his kids really don't speak to each other over what went on then. Maybe if they had talked about it before it became necessary they might have worked something out, but no one seems to be talking about it.

Anonymous said...

People assume that because they are funding a 401K (and some of those are way underfunded) or have a few IRAs that they are set for the future. Anyone check the value of those accounts in the last few days? Ups and downs in the market are to be expected but if you don't set aside more then you believe you will need you might get caught in a downturn just when you need to start taking out money. And that's just the people who actually are trying to fund a decent retirement. Those who haven't done so or who are in debt that needs to be repaid before they can even think of saving are the real elephant in the room. And I think you are right that we are all going to have to feed that elephant.

Orthonomics said...

I've seen a few letters, which I do not have on hand, in Jewish publications where parents have either passed or become unable to manage their own finances, and a set of siblings is forced to take one sibing off the dole to balance the budget. In each case, the self-supporting sibilings I believe were unaware of the extent of the "help" being provided and were naturally stuck in a very tough place.

A textbook on the elderly and finances and children/grandchildren could be written specifically for the frum community. . do's and don'ts. . . I hope you will take the cause on.

Good post.

the apple said...

I think the ad me'ah ve'esrim concept comes from the fact that Moshe Rabbeinu lived for 120 years. (Or it could just be a BY myth, not sure.)

G said...

"BY myth"?!?!


The Rebbetzin's Husband said...

Funny - I just posted on the origins of 120 (answering a question someone asked me ages ago), and then came to look at your blog and saw this post here!

Anonymous said...

Found a link to this at haveil haveilim. Really something we all need to think about and there is not nearly enough discussion about this. I hope you'll write more about it in the future, maybe with some practical hints or ideas on how we should be preparing for our aging parents.

Anonymous said...

The way we treat our parents (in health as well as in sickness) is the model we set for our own children.
In the depression my grandparents had very little (they were in the US and not in the shoah) but what they had they shared.
When my grandfather had a stroke and couldn't live alone and manage his Brooklyn grocery, my father - his son-in-law, divided one of our two bedrooms so that my parents had 1/2 a room, we (my brother and I) had a small room and my grandfather had the other half bedroom. Also, my parents were paying Yeshiva tuition and in the 50's good moms didn't work outside the home. There was no medicaid.