Part of the Political Issues and Policies Special Report
The 2016 campaign has been unprecedented in terms of entertainment value. At some point, substance will have to replace showmanship.
By the time the next President begins his or her term, the youngest boomer will be 51 and the oldest 70. This means that the largest generation of its time will be joining the ranks of older Americans, which by 2030 will have doubled in size.
It is reasonable to assume that anyone in national politics values the older person as a voter, but do candidates understand the values and motivations that lead older adults to vote?
I would like to approach the candidates with some questions on a topic that millions of Americans will face during the next President’s term(s)—financial security in retirement.
Two fundamental questions to start: What is your vision for an America that is an aging society? What do you see as the role of government, especially for the vulnerable of all ages?
The Future of Social Security
At the heart of any discussion about financial security in retirement is the future of Social Security. Last year, we celebrated its 80th anniversary. Social Security has succeeded in lowering the poverty rate among older Americans, in particular older women. Without Social Security, 48% of women would have income below the federal poverty line. With Social Security, only 11% of women are in poverty. It is also the largest children’s benefits program in the nation, so its future has intergenerational consequences.
If one were to canvass all candidates for president, it would be an absolute shock if none of them had caregiver responsibilities.
Questions focusing on Social Security could include: The most recent trustees report indicates that no American would face a reduction in Social Security benefits until after 2035. If elected, would you initiate action on Social Security in your first term? Of the three ways to reform Social Security — increase payroll tax rate, reduce benefits or some form of privatization — is there any one you would not pursue? Might you have an alternative plan to the three options just presented?
The future of Medicare will also be a critical issue in the first term of a new president. Questions here would be: If elected, would you allow the reforms in the Affordable Care Act dedicated to Medicare’s future, such as delivery system reforms and lowering hospital readmissions, to continue? Do you think Medicare is stronger when it provides greater coverage for preventative care? What is your view about the Medicare Part D prescription drug program? And, how would you address the issue of rising drug prices in America?
Facing the Cost of Long-Term Care
All candidates to date have been pretty silent on the largest unfunded liability facing the boomer generation: the cost of long-term care .
That is unfortunate and feeds into the theory that this is America’s denial issue. So, questions for the candidates could be: What would be your approach to addressing long-term care in America? Would you pursue a public-private solution? Would you focus more resources into home- and community-based care? Would you add a new long-term care benefit to Medicare? What changes to the tax code might you look into? Today, members of Congress and all active and retired federal employees and their families are eligible to purchase long-term care insurance. Should this be expanded?
If one were to canvass all candidates for President it would be an absolute shock if none of them had caregiver responsibilities of one kind or another. Today in America, more than 40 million families face caregiving responsibilities of one form or another. Yet to date there is one federal program to help family caregivers, with a total budget of $145.6 million: the National Family Caregiver Support Program in the Older Americans Act.
To all candidates: What more would you do to help the unpaid family caregiver in America, with particular attention to those grandparents who are raising grandchildren?
Changing Job Strategies?
Financial security in retirement is a different issue because retirement is different today. More boomers as they age are choosing to work either because they want to or they have to. To all candidates: What is your job creation plan for the country? What is your job retention strategy for the country? Would you develop proposals tailored to our older workforce such as flex time and/or time banking?
A related question for financial security as people age relates to greater incentives for people to save for retirement. To all candidates: Americans need to save more. What policies would you adopt to help achieve this?
There has been a continuous and growing divergence in income and asset availability between the upper 20% of households by income and the lower 80% which began back in the early 1980s. Retirement policy for the US used to be the “three-legged stool,” where pensions were a large contributor to retiree financial security, followed by savings and Social Security. Both pensions and savings are no longer distributed as widely or as generously, pension programs are being cut and eliminated, and as mentioned above, Americans are not saving as much as they need to. The next president will have four to eight years to frame the future for this growing economically challenged segment of American society. A necessary question to ask: What are your plans specifically regarding income security across the US for older people?
Protection of financial assets as people age is critical to future financial security. Yet elder financial abuse robs its victims of almost $3 billion a year. To all candidates: Will you support a greater federal role, including the provision of resources, to fight all forms of elder abuse, especially financial abuse and exploitation?
Will the Candidate Fight Ageism?
Finally, one of the outgrowths of an aging society is a rise in ageism. Unlike other forms of discrimination, it is more universal as everyone ages.
To all candidates: As president, would you consider the appointment of a blue ribbon commission to investigate causes of ageism, in public policy and private practices, and ask for a report providing a pathway to combat ageism?
There are several realities about the 2016 election. It will be close no matter who the nominees are. Second, the older voter will be one of the most coveted and contested votes in 2016.
The early indication is that the American voter is unsettled. Lost in the shuffle are some proposals that have emerged such as ending the Social Security payroll tax for workers above age 67 (Bush) and several proposals to deal with the growing problem of student loan debt (Clinton and Sanders), which is now a new threat to financial security in later years.
This election campaign may (or may not) settle down, but bread and butter issues like financial security in retirement will emerge as important. It is the job of advocates to make sure they are addressed in a substantive and achievable way.
Richard Browdie, CEO of the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging in Cleveland, Ohio, contributed to this report.
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