Skip to main content

Keep seniors' national park fees low

By Teresa Ghilarducci, Special to CNN
updated 10:15 AM EDT, Thu April 25, 2013
Teresa Ghilarducci says having seniors pay more to visit parks like Yosemite in California is the wrong way to fix the budget.
Teresa Ghilarducci says having seniors pay more to visit parks like Yosemite in California is the wrong way to fix the budget.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A congresswoman proposes raising the price of the senior lifetime pass to national parks
  • Teresa Ghilarducci: Raising the price for the elderly won't make a real dent
  • She says the idea seems like another attempt to erode the financial situation of American seniors
  • Ghilarducci: There is no fixed pie; it's not as if seniors get more, then young people get less

Editor's note: Teresa Ghilarducci is a professor of economics and director of the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis at The New School.

(CNN) -- As the nation faces a looming retirement crisis, a member of Congress has proposed a terrible idea that would bash seniors. Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier of California asked the National Park Service to consider raising the price of the senior lifetime pass to help solve the parks' $153 million budget gap caused by the sequester cuts.

Pause for a moment and consider that $153 million is a tiny portion of the federal budget. It is a little more than the value of Bill Gates' house and a fraction of the price of a B-2 bomber.

People over 62 can buy a $10 lifetime pass to the more than 2000 federal recreational sites. For volunteers, the disabled and young children, it's free. With the exception of a few other cases, it's $80 for an annual pass to all the sites.

Teresa Ghilarducci
Teresa Ghilarducci

If the park service doubled the cost of the senior lifetime pass, it would raise $5 million. That's such a tiny drop in the bucket it's laughable.

This is not about the $5 million. Raising the lifetime park pass for seniors is not offered up to lower park admission prices for young people.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



In other words, there is no fixed pie. If grandma gets more, then baby Charlie gets less. No. Unlike reptiles, human societies do not arrange to eat their young.

There is a sincere but mistaken belief out there that the old are taking advantage of the young. Societies that pay for the old can pay for the young, too. It's not a zero-sum game.

My colleagues and I have analyzed the national budgets in more than 63 nations. When a society spends more money on the elderly, they also spend more money on education and other programs benefiting the young. For example, in the United States in the 1970s, education spending tripled, education attainment rates soared and Social Security and Medicare expanded.

The park pass proposal comes across as another attempt to erode the financial situation of American seniors who are already facing threats in their coming old age.

Budget cuts hit Washington economy hard

The various proposals floating around to cut Social Security are scary enough for older Americans. For example, one idea from the Simpson-Bowles Commission is to raise the age seniors can collect their full Social Security benefits from 67 to 70 and the eligibility age from 62 to 65.

President Obama has proposed replacing the regular consumer price index, or CPI, to adjust Social Security benefits with the chained CPI -- often called the cat food CPI because the index assumes that when the price of human food rises, seniors can substitute cheaper food to get the same nutrition. A chained CPI would lower lifetime benefits to the oldest seniors by more than $25,000.

With the U.S. economy growing at a sluggish pace, older Americans who are nearing retirement face more uncertainty. In 2012, a report from the Government Accountability Office found employers are reluctant to hire older workers, citing reasons such as outdated skills as one of the factors. Workers who are 55 years old and up who lose their jobs have it the hardest. They face the longest period of unemployment.

Members of Congress who want generational fairness and balanced budgets won't get there by whacking the elderly with Social Security cuts or higher park pass prices. Why can't Congress be smarter about finding ways to revitalize the economy and create jobs? That is a rhetorical question. They are busy finding coins in the sofa cushions instead of creating a sustainable and stabilizing federal budget.

Raising the price of park passes for the elderly won't make a real dent or help young people enjoy the trees more. With this budget process, fewer and fewer families or the elderly will be able to get to the park if they're busy scrambling to get by.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Teresa Ghilarducci.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
updated 12:23 AM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:54 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT