Utah's Bad Report Card: No 'A' for the Aging Population | Opinion | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Utah's Bad Report Card: No 'A' for the Aging Population 

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Of course, you've seen them—there's no way to miss Utah's proliferation of assisted living centers, along with their associated memory care and hospice facilities. It's the epidemic result of the state's rapidly growing over-65 sector. For a mere $4,000 to $10,000 per month, there are myriad choices for the younger generations to incarcerate their parents and grandparents for those final, maybe-not-so-golden years.

Now, I realize that "incarceration" has an unfavorable connotation, so I'll backtrack: With a remarkable array of amenities and an elegance—which often far exceed residents' previous living arrangements—many of these facilities provide the finest level of house arrest. "There's no place like home," and the majority of Utahns hope to stay in their own personal homes for the remainder of their lives. But that's not always possible. The ravages of age often require a level of care that would be a difficult—or even impossible—burden for the family.

But the sad reality is that the young mostly shun the responsibility to give something back to those who sacrificed in order to provide them with a strong start in life. In many parts of the world, families live alongside their elders, sharing the fears and pains of aging, and being there, in those final hours, to provide the loving send-off to the great beyond.

Consistent with the narcissistic hedonism so prevalent in the U.S., most Americans loathe the idea of caring for the aged. It's not just Utahns. Somehow, the edict of "Honor thy father and thy mother" has failed to pass the test of time.

We have a problem, and it's getting bigger by the day. As the percentage of aging population rises, so does its marginalization of Utah's senior sector. State programs committed to serving and protecting the aging are woefully underfunded, and struggle to fulfill their responsibilities, simply because our Legislature won't step up to the plate.

In a state where great reverence is given to the monotone old men of Mormonism, it is hard to understand why Utah's other seniors are essentially being punished for surviving so long. Age should have its special benefits. Instead, our state bends over backward to accommodate the younger generations while neglecting the old.

One black mark for Utah is its burdensome taxation. All Social Security and retirement incomes are taxed at the same rates as wages. It's deplorable, and, frankly, other states put ours to shame.

Utah is one of only 13 states that tax retirees' Social Security income. Many others exempt pensions and 401K income as well. One, Georgia, exempts both SS and pensions right up to $65,000 per person. That's right; no state taxes on all but the richest old geezers. Instead, Utah's aging are forced to pay the burdens of the young—providing, through their silver-haired indenturement, the education, infrastructure and programs which primarily benefit the state's excessively large families.

Then there's the matter of recreation. Utahns, like other retirees, look forward to a nice RV and travel. But it's more expensive here. Uncle Sam outshines Utah, providing a lifetime senior pass that gives free access to all national parks, monuments and facilities, and provides half-price camping. But Utah's state parks make the aging population pay full-tilt for camping—zero discounts for seniors. While there's a $35 per year annual pass for park entry—which includes day use facilities and boat launching—all camping, even if your name is Methuselah, is at full price. What do other states provide? Numerous concessions for seniors, with free entry to all state parks and discounted camping.

Here, the cliché signs—"gone fishin'"—on retirees' front doors, aren't such a joyous announcement. Utah is pricey on its fishing and hunting fees, and seniors are required, like everyone else, to buy a new license every year. (Almost every other state offers an inexpensive (or free) over-65 fishing and hunting license that's good for life.)

Utah's property taxes are another curse on the old. Indexed to the soaring values of our real estate, they threaten retirees' home ownership. People on fixed incomes often can't absorb the ever-increasing costs. In a sense, it's the right of the taxing authority to take that "paid-off" home away by making it too expensive to keep. Many states have addressed that risk and have laws which limit increases and exempt a large portion of a home's valuation. Utah? Not a chance. We have "property tax relief" for seniors, but it's only for those with poverty level incomes.

If report cards were provided to our governor and legislators on issues of the aging, it certainly wouldn't be a grade they'd want their mothers to see. Somehow, the mandate to love thy father and thy mother is struggling for survival in our state—lodged in that bottom drawer where good intentions are forgotten.

The author is a former Vietnam-era Army assistant public information officer. He resides in Riverton with his wife, Carol, and one mongrel dog. Send feedback to comments@cityweekly.net

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