Franke: The Blessings of a Fixed Income

February 17, 2021

by Mark Franke

One thing we geezers, I mean senior citizens, are not so lovingly known for is constantly whining, I mean commenting, about being on a fixed income. Every time the price of gas goes up at the pump or groceries seem to cost more at checkout, an irritating choir of voices is heard about the unfairness of having to live on a fixed income.

Back when inflation was a real concern, there was some truth to this. Pensions, social security and other retirement incomes lagged by a year in giving cost of living increases and what did come was typically viewed as too little, too late.

Of course the other problem was the questionable accuracy of the federal consumer price index in calculating what the typical household paid in prices for its so called market basket of goods and services. Given that retirees purchase different items on different frequencies than a young family, this could work against seniors. At least we all thought it did.

I will refrain from using that tired term, the new normal, but the times they are a’changing. Inflation is little more than an unpleasant memory, at least for most things. My cable TV and internet bill somehow goes up every six months or so and our local mayor wants to increase the food and beverage tax by a full percentage point, but I will stop there with the grousing.

Rather, I think this is a great time to be on a fixed income. 

Think of the people who work in the restaurant, hospitality and tourism industries. Most are trying to live on significantly reduced incomes and many have lost their jobs, perhaps permanently. Then there are those who work for companies such as food wholesalers and equipment manufacturers which supply these hard-hit businesses. Which, in turn, affects those they buy from and those they buy from and so forth.

A friend who manages an American Legion post told me that he was able to bring all his employees back after the mandatory shutdown last spring but he estimates that their annual income was reduced by 20-25 percent due to lost hours and reduced tips after reopening to limited seating. Other posts, he said, permanently reduced staff and several never reopened. While this is not an empirical study on my part, one can easily extrapolate that across a large swath of the U. S. economy.

Sure, there were forgivable loans offered to employers and stimulus checks sent to workers and non-workers alike. A lucky group was able to collect unemployment benefits in excess of their regular wages, thanks to the economic geniuses who write laws in Congress. Americans who weren’t suffering income loss responded by donations to charities and helped where and when they could.

My small part has been to tip 30 percent when at a restaurant or picking up carryout. That may seem like a lot, especially when my wife insists on going to up-scale places rather than the not so up-scale places I prefer like that American Legion post I mentioned above. It only costs me a few dollars a week but it can mean a lot to the struggling employees at these establishments. 

I am not nominating myself for sainthood or a presidential citation since I just admitted that this hasn’t cost me much. Think, though, how much it would do for these workers if everyone increased tipping by even a dollar each visit?

Many are, as evidenced by a story in my local newspaper, which quoted a waitress as thankful that her customers were tipping as much as 20 percent. This, she said, compared to her normal tip of only 10 percent. We Hoosiers are frugal, and I can think of several less complimentary terms for it, but we can and do respond when we see our neighbors in need. As well we should.

We seniors can share the blessing of a fixed income during a time when so many others deal with a reduced and uncertain income.

And then there has been those unexpected stimulus checks that most of us seniors received. So much for a fixed income.

Mark Franke, an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review, is formerly associate vice chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.


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