Part of the Election 2016 Special Report
“Everyone talks about important voting groups this election, but no one talks about boomer women,” Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said at a Politico/AARP panel in Washington, D.C., today. “They will be the Rodney Dangerfield — or maybe the Rachel Dangerfield — of this election.
Well, there was plenty of talk about these voters at the panel, called Boomer Women and the Election: What’s at Stake.
Much of the talk was about how frustrated many boomer women are that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton (a boomer woman) aren’t addressing key security issues that matter to them most: financial security, retirement security and Social Security. About a third of boomer women are single, divorced, widowed or never married, so financial security is especially vital for them.
Most boomer women felt they haven’t heard enough yet from Clinton or Trump about Social Security.
— Nancy LeaMond, AARP
The No. 1 Thing to Fix
“Everyone is concerned about the state of the economy. It affects their ability to save for retirement and care for their elderly parents. It’s the No. 1 thing to fix to make everyone confident and secure,” said Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research who is a Trump adviser and who worked for Presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
In a recent survey of 1,500 likely women voters age 50+ in 15 key battleground states conducted for AARP by Lake’s firm, Lake Research Partners, 72 percent of respondents said they believe the next president and Congress need to act immediately to update Social Security and 53 percent said they’d be impacted if the program wasn’t reformed by 2034. That’s when, based on current projections, beneficiaries could see Social Security checks cut by nearly 25 percent due to solvency problems of the Social Security Trust Fund.
“Most boomer women felt they haven’t heard enough yet from Clinton or Trump about Social Security,” said Nancy LeaMond, AARP’s executive vice president of social impact and a boomer herself. In the AARP poll, taken in August, only 34 percent of the boomer women said they’d heard about Clinton’s plan and just 20 percent said they’d heard about Trump’s.
Where the Candidates Stand on Social Security
AARP’s Take a Stand campaign aims to push the candidates to talk more about their Social Security proposals and keep Social Security “strong and adequate for future generations.” You can find out where the candidates stand on Social Security by reading the Next Avenue articles on Clinton and Trump’s views, as well as ones about Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein.
Here’s why boomer women care so much about Social Security, according to LeaMond: 25 percent of women 65 and older rely on Social Security for nearly all their income. And the federal retirement program “keeps a third of older women above the poverty line.”
And, said Lake, although we’ve all heard how much Millennials fear Social Security won’t be around to pay their retirement benefits, “boomers are also very concerned it won’t be there for them.”
Panelist Neera Tanden, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress and co-chair of Clinton’s transition team, surprisingly gave props to Trump on his Social Security stance. “He is the first Republican who has not called for Social Security benefit cuts,” said Tanden. “The two parties are closer on Social Security than they have been in the past if you look at the Republican nominee’s rhetoric.”
Furchtgott-Roth said Trump has been very clear about his Social Security views and, to prove it, read from his latest book, Crippled America: “We should not touch Social Security. It’s off the table.”
When asked about Trump surrogates who’ve said Social Security benefit cuts might be on the table after the election, Furchtgott-Roth said they don’t have the authority to speak for him on this. “Trump believes we can grow the economy so Social Security benefits will shrink as a percentage of GDP and the issue won’t need to be addressed,” she added.
The panelists were also asked where Clinton and Trump stand on federal and state Auto-IRA proposals requiring employers to offer retirement plans. President Obama has unsuccessfully tried to get Congress to pass a national Auto-IRA and several states have passed legislation for their residents.
“Hillary has been a fan of the Auto-IRA plan to address the fact that 50 or 60 percent of Americans don’t have any real retirement savings,” said Tanden.
Furchtgott-Roth said “Trump believes any states who want to set up their own Auto-IRAs have every right to do so and he doesn’t want to interfere with their initiatives.”
But, she added, “we have many [federal] programs now that people are not taking advantage of. They’re leaving retirement savings on the table. Many people could be putting $5,000 a year into IRAs but are not doing that.”
The Sleeper Issue for Boomer Women
Lake said caregiving is the “sleeper issue” for boomer women this election and for the next decade. More than half of boomer women (55 percent) are family caregivers or have been, she noted. “This is the new normal and it’s not a Republican or a Democratic issue. It’s a family issue and a growing issue,” LeaMond said.
As Next Avenue has noted, both Clinton and Trump have come out with policy proposals to help family caregivers.
Clinton wants to boost Social Security benefits for people (typically women) who take time off from paid work for family caregiving duties. She also favors a new tax deduction of up to $1,200 to care for aging parents or grandparents. Trump proposes a deduction of up to $5,000 per year for “elder care costs necessary to keep a family member working outside the home.” He also backs letting Americans open tax-favored Dependent Care Savings Accounts of up to $2,000 a year for expenses relating to child and elder care.
Addressing Medicare and Medicaid
Rodney Whitlock, a former Capitol Hill health policy staffer who is now vice president, health policy for ML Strategies, said there was another important issue for boomer women this election: “the challenges facing Medicare and Medicaid fiscally and the need to serve their populations.”
To get Medicaid to cover some long-term care costs, Whitlock said, “you have to impoverish yourself.” Boomer women, he noted, want to “fix that problem.”
He said he’d like to see Congress and the next administration address Medicare and Medicaid in a bipartisan way. “We need to find ways to talk to each other Nov. 9 that we’re not doing today. That will be the challenge for the next administration,” said Whitlock.
One topic none of the panelists addressed: what the presidential candidates would do to help long-term unemployed boomer women. Finding a job after 50 takes considerably longer than when you’re younger, if you can find one at all, according to government statistics. One reason, as Rosalind Barnett, author of The Age of Longevity, just told Next Avenue: age discrimination by employers.
Nevertheless, said LeaMond, “There is a golden opportunity in the remaining days of the campaign to connect with boomer women on economic and family issues, and we hope the candidates do.”