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Dependence or Old Age

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DEPENDENCE or OLD AGE The first and most obvious social problem con nected with old age is that of support.

Old age dependence ranks in importance with the care of the sick and of widows with dependent children, far exceeding the problem of orphanage or unemployment. In 1910 there were in the United States just under four million persons who were over sixty-five years of age. Mr. Lee W. Squier, who has studied old age dependence sym pathetically, estimates that more than a quarter of these were in want and supported by charity, public or private. Whether it is a million and a quarter, as Mr. Squier thinks,* or two million and a half, as Mr. Berger says in a speech in Congress,—though he is speaking of those over sixty, and includes all who have an income of less than ten dollars a week, —or only the half million or so that could probably be counted from statistical sources as in institu tions or receiving partial support at home, the number of the aged who require support presents a problem serious enough to justify far more atten tion than it has received.

Our main reliance in this country has been on— (I) The continued earning power of the aged them selves; (2) savings for old age; (3) support by grown children or other relatives; (4) United States pensions and state pensions to Confederate * The principal item in Mr. Squier's table, about three quarters of a million, consists of United States pensioners. A census report, published since his book appeared, shows that his estimate of the number of persons over sixty-five years of age in almshouses, the next item numerically in his list, was much too high. Instead of ninety-five thousand over sixty five, there were only forty-six thousand over sixty. Mr. Squier's estimate was based on the number reported as in almshouses in Massachusetts.

veterans; (5) private homes for aged, partly main tained by admission fees of their inmates; (6) pub lic almshouses; (7) outdoor relief, and (8) private allowances through churches or charitable agen cies, for which the funds may be supplied in part by relatives, former employers, or friends of the beneficiary. There are, of course, some de pendent poor in workhouses and jails as vagrants, although some other condition than age and in firmity is assumed to be present when the aged find their only refuge in correctional institutions. There are, no doubt, some in hospitals and asy lums for the insane whose senility is not of such a character as to require institutional care except for their lack of any other means of support.

The federal and state pensions, in theory merely a deferred recognition of services performed now half a century ago, have become in fact the main national provision for old age. Judged from that point of view, it is not an equitable provision. The federal pensions have been distributed mainly in the northern states, where the need for old-age support is certainly not greatest. Their cost has been enormous. They have had no relation to proved need, to thrift or merit. As an old-age provision they have violated every known canon of actuarial, ethical, and social policy. They are a

cost of the Civil War, and in that light alone could they be defended as devised and administered. And yet the federal and state pensions are not without some substantial justification in their social results. If the government had not expended the four and a half billion dollars which it has spent in pensions, the problem of old-age dependence would have been far more pressing than it has been. Much of that money has been wasted, some of it has been demoralizing, but it has been one means of support, perhaps on the whole the best means that we have had after savings and maintenance by relatives.

One minor reason for the long-continued poverty of southern states, as compared with the greater economic prosperity of the North, has doubtless been the drain on its resources to care for its aged white and colored dependents. The pension fund, drawn from general taxation, has been expended in the North. Another fund, not so enormous but still large in the aggregate, has then had to be raised for the support of the relatively larger and poorer number who served the lost cause or were impover ished by the war. The result has been a violent national maladjustment, which cannot be without its effect on physical well-being and economic pros perity.

Whatever the sources of their support, the aged may be cared for either in their own or their chil dren's homes, or in some kind of institution.

Personal thrift and the filial loyalty of children may take either of these forms. A chair by the family fireside, at the family board, and in the family councils, would no doubt be the preference of the majority when conditions are at all favorable. The argument in favor of such normal mingling with kindred is not the same as that for home life of children, and perhaps it is not so universally convincing. Perhaps for some there is a certain attraction in the independence of an institution where board is paid or a life fee. Independence may seem an odd term for any kind of institutional life, where there must be a fixed routine, definite limitations on liberty of movement and action; yet just as a hotel is a place of greater freedom in a sense for the guest than the most hospitable home, so within the cadaver of its regulations an institu tion may, after all, offer a comparatively untram meled and untroubled haven to a storm-tossed soul.

As between maintaining, if possible, a separate domestic establishment and going to live with sons and daughters-in-law, or daughters and sons-in law, many would justly prefer the former. As between being boarded out in the family of a stranger and accommodation in a private or church institution, many would prefer the latter. But all four plans, and many variations upon them, are legitimate for those respectively who prefer them. Any of them is better than neglect, and some one or a combination of them is a possible means of caring for a very large proportion of those who are past work. We put savings and care by grown sons and daughters, therefore, as not only a natural, but a desirable provision for old age.