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When agencies save paper, seniors lose

Everybody wants to save paper -- but for some, it's optional.  My long-time love-it, hate-it bank enables those online to replace printed statements with statements that are viewable.  They encourage online access, but don't require it. In fact, many make quite an effort to save our governments from printing too much, and many more are on a mission to save those trees and be oh-so-green ('paperless at home' and Save Our Trees). So what other organizations will follow the examples of the Social Security Administration and most recently the Treasury Department? Financial services and banks have been pushing the go-paperless rock up hill for years, but it is always optional for the consumer. There has been some success (possibly due to the economy): paper consumption has, in fact, fallen a bit from 2010 to 2011. But the Treasury's mandate that Savings Bonds can only be purchased online is an ominous warning to the sizable senior population that still is not using the Internet - 42% of the 65+ are online, according to Pew Research, but only 30% of the 'GI Generation', those aged 74+, are online. No savings bond buying for them.

Reverse the analysis -- what's it take to get the rest online?  So how are the other 70% who are not online (and don't know what's next in terms of paperless this, online discounts for that, contests, social networks, blah, blah) going to get there?  The average price of broadband in the US today is around $47 per month -- and the low-cost plans for low income families require at least one child in the school lunch program. (!) Broadband will cost seniors well over $500 per year at the cheapest end, not counting the cost of an enabling device, plus someone to support the connection of the device and cope with its various outages, viruses, and other impediments.  And the 74+ population isn't buying a tablet yet, so let's just get over that. (Note: Actually the 50+ aren't buying them either. So let's get over that too).  So just for grins, add up the $500 per year for the cheapest plan, $250 for a cheap PC computer or $500+ for a MAC, $50 for a Geek Squad setup and ditto for chatting with an agent on the phone after they've left. So we could be up to $1000 and we haven't bought a printer yet, which we might need to print, scan, and fax (oh, did I mention fax?)! Oops, and if we buy the printer, we won't be paperless anymore, will we?

Paperless plans are purposeless for the elderly population.  Peruse a few statistics-rich websites about income like the Social Security Administration's: "In 2009, 45 percent of all elderly unmarried females receiving Social Security benefits relied on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income." And guess what the average Social Security income was that year for women? "In 2009, the average annual Social Security income received by women 65 years and older was $12,155, compared to $15,620 for men." And based on some of the comments received in recent research, when seniors were asked if they had a laptop, tablet, or a smart phone, they thought the question was ridiculous, which of course it is, for a person with a $13,000 annual income. And it is ridiculous to expect this population to migrate online because a Federal or state agency wants to make it so.

Where are the kiosks?  Every time I see that blood pressure cuff station in a pharmacy, I wonder, where is the Internet kiosk for someone who doesn't own a printer to print a statement? The library and senior centers are bearing the brunt of requests no doubt, especially at tax time, to print forms that are now part of some government agency's paperless plan. Oops, libraries are closing and senior centers are under the budget knife as well. What will pop up in the place of these community institutions, where paper forms and how to use them have been standard staples (no pun intended) of services all these years? What if a tiny tax were added to your supermarket or pharmacy bill to place a small computer lab in the back of the store so that while seniors waited for their prescription, they could have a bit of assistance to find or print a form? I know, what if drug companies paid that tax! Any ideas are welcome.

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