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What Older Voters Care About Now

A Next Avenue survey reveals concerns for themselves and younger generations


Next Avenue Blogger
Next Avenue Blogger

Part of the Transforming Life as We Age Special Report

Next Avenue’s January survey on 2016 election issues revealed something that seems uncommon in politics: an interest group that isn’t all that self-interested.

More than 3,400 Next Avenue readers — an audience of people mostly 50 and older — took part in the online survey. And 67 percent of them said issues of aging, caregiving and long-term care will be a factor in how they vote in the presidential election.

But issues related to aging placed only fifth among survey respondents’ biggest concerns in the election, after (in ranked order) the economy, health care, climate change and foreign policy, but ahead of terrorism and immigration. The survey asked people to rank those seven issues based on their importance to them. Many did so, but identified their own priority issues in comments like these:

Although [Im] at the top of the baby boomer age, [my] primary concerns are regarding issues in a broader context, i.e., climate change, racial and social injustices, [the] USAs race to the bottom in education, etc.

Free pre-K, free community college. KIDS are the future.”

What matters the most to me is the future for my daughter and granddaughter. I want the banks brought to heel. I want money out of elections. I want climate change addressed.

Biggest Worries: Financial Security, Health Care, Drug Costs

Among issues directly related to aging, survey participants were most concerned about health care and financial security. Those are sure to be top of mind when older voters get to directly question the presidential candidates during a February 17 forum hosted by the nonprofit Leadership Council of Aging Organizations. (You can watch the live-streamed event at 2:30 Eastern Standard Time.)

Eighty-four percent strongly supported the idea of government working to manage and reduce drug costs.

When asked to choose their top three concerns from a longer list that included items such as funding for Alzheimer’s research, support for family caregivers and fighting ageism, the largest numbers of respondents chose:

  • Providing financial support for retired people (like Social Security): 63 percent
  • Providing health care insurance for older people (like Medicare): 54 percent
  • Making health care affordable for older Americans: 44 percent

In line with naming the economy as their top issue this election, respondents showed that with regard to aging, they worry most about their personal economy and a secure quality of life.

Drug prices stood out as a specific cost concern. When asked what government should do to address the health crises facing older Americans, 84 percent of respondents “strongly supported” and another 12 percent “somewhat supported” the idea of government working to manage and reduce drug costs. That far outstripped the two options that got the next-highest numbers: requiring more oversight of hospitals and long-term care facilities (56 percent strongly supported) and increasing Medicare benefits (49 percent strongly supported).

It’s important to note that not all survey respondents saw aging-related concerns as something for government to manage or solve. Just as in Next Avenue’s recent survey on long-term care financing, a small contingent of respondents voiced their belief that these are issues of personal responsibility:

Your questions suggest you want a nanny state. I want Americans to be self-reliant.

The government should not be asked to take care of the elderly. The elderly and their families should take care of themselves.

Americans need to take care of themselves in all ways and depend less on government. That said, taxes need to be reduced so older Americans ARE able to save.

How to Meet Long-Term Care Needs

Survey respondents recognized long-term care costs as a risk that can undermine personal financial security. They ranked it fourth-highest on the list of 12 aging-related concerns, just after their top three concerns about Social Security, Medicare and affordable health care.

With roughly half the cost of long-term care paid out-of-pocket by families and most of the remainder covered by Medicaid when personal assets run out, survey respondents want better ways to meet this need. Most of them, 84 percent, said they support expanding Medicare to cover more long-term care expenses. And 72 percent want policies that provide incentives for more personal saving for long-term care.

Mandating the purchase of private long-term care insurance was notably unpopular as a solution. It was opposed by 62 percent of survey respondents.

Legacy and Unity: Concern for Younger Generations

The legacy that older generations will leave behind for younger ones was on the mind of many survey respondents. They expressed it as they named priorities like these:

While I believe that older Americans should be safe and secure, the future really belongs to young people and education is really important to address. It needs to be good quality and affordable for everyone.

Making sure Social Security is still around for my now-30-somethings.

Providing good education and health care for our grandchildren.

Whether my grandchildren have a livable planet and whether or not our country can be a good international neighbor outweigh my comfort in what is left of my life.

But another kind of relationship between generations was also a recurring theme: unity. Individual respondents’ slant on that idea varied, from enlightened self-interest to a belief that many issues span generations and the best solutions are those that work for all ages. Here’s how a few survey participants expressed it:

I wish older people were more compassionate to younger people. These are the workers who are going to support and care for aging retirees. We should look out for them more.

You can’t separate life into neat little packages based on age or any other demographic …. The economy is super important to me, not only from my perspective but my childrens. Theyve both lost jobs recently and havent yet found new ones. Theyre living with us, which is a strain on our budget.

I have problems with old people isolating themselves from [the] younger population. Old-folks communities should be discouraged and integration with all ages encouraged. That would stop the idea of ages competing with each other and [help] everyone recognizing each others problems and solutions.

No matter what age we are, we need to understand that all issues affect people of every age, and that we must all work together. We need policies that are good for all age groups.

Everyone should have access to good, affordable health care. Not just [the] older population, but all of us. A disservice to one group is a disservice to all.

Many people between age 45-65 lost everything in the recession and will never recoup substantial losses. No one wants to hire us anymore either so our earning power is nil. Millions of us will be a huge financial burden on society in the future unless this is addressed soon. We need policies for lifelong education, training and employment.

Thought should be given to how the big issues have an impact on the aging issues, and how the retired and aging human resources can help solve the big problems, including global warming and poverty. We are all looking for meaning and usefulness for our lives.

EVERYONE needs to pay more attention to the aging population and pay attention to the issues they face as they have wide-reaching consequences for all of us.  If we are lucky, we will one day be old, too!

 

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