Skip to main content

Keep seniors' national park fees low

By Teresa Ghilarducci, Special to CNN
April 25, 2013 -- Updated 1415 GMT (2215 HKT)
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
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1947 GMT (0347 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Jimmy Carter's message about the need to restore trust in public officials is a vital one, decades after the now 90-year-old he first voiced it
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2156 GMT (0556 HKT)
Ford Vox says mistakes and missed opportunities along the line to a diagnosis of Ebola in a Liberian man have put Dallas residents at risk of fatal infection
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2221 GMT (0621 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz says California is trying, but its law requiring step-by-step consent is just not the way hot and heavy sex proceeds on college campuses
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 0217 GMT (1017 HKT)
Mike Downey says long-suffering fans, waiting for good playoff news since 1985, finally get something to cheer about
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2139 GMT (0539 HKT)
Steve Israel saysJohn Boehner's Congress and the tea party will be remembered for shutting down government one year ago
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1856 GMT (0256 HKT)
Yep. You read the headline right, says Peter Bergen, writing on the new government that stresses national unity
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrators are but the latest freedom group to be abandoned by the Obama administration, says Mike Gonzalez
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1423 GMT (2223 HKT)
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1455 GMT (2255 HKT)
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2303 GMT (0703 HKT)
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1419 GMT (2219 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1859 GMT (0259 HKT)
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT