One of America's largest, and fastest growing, population demographics has been pretty much ignored in the opening phases of the 2016 Presidential Campaigns. We have heard very little about the problems facing Senior Citizens, and even less about solutions. That is indeed ironic, given the likelihood that those same seniors will vote in this year's vital elections. That bumper sticker which reads "I'm old and I vote!" is on target -- my own first presidential election took place in 1960, and I have not missed one since then. I remain hopeful that the upcoming election will become substantive.
Here. then, are some vital issues which America's Senior Citizens should keep in mind for 2016, and beyond. This Op Ed is being sent to all major presidential candidates, with the advice that they make such issues a serious focus of their campaigns:
1) Raising the minimum wage -- only Bernie Sanders has focused on this absolute need, and his proposal for $15 hourly is fully justified but unrealistic; however, a twelve-dollar-an-hour minimum wage, raised over several years, is a workable proposal. The reason for this being a Senior Citizen issue is that more and more seniors have to work well into their 70s, part time or even full time, in order to survive financially. The present national minimum wage, sadly, leaves many of them well below the poverty line.
2) Raising social security and medicare benefits -- both of which have fallen below the real costs seniors must pay, which are rising much faster than the national inflation rate. The present formulas for such benefits fail to take senior cost increases, such as medical costs which experience double-digit inflation annually, into full account -- whereas areas of reduced costs, such as gasoline price drops, have much less impact on senior citizens than they do on the general public. Proper adjustments are long overdue.
3) Fully investigating private insurance programs supposedly tailored to Senior Citizens -- such as the abysmal Senior Citizen insurance program offered through AARP via The Hartford insurance companies. From most unfortunate personal experience, I can testify that these programs appear to use "lowball" initial premiums to attract seniors -- and then to make drastic and unexplained premium increases once seniors are "hooked." Meanwhile, promised benefits such as a reduced premium after being with the program for three years are denied -- again, with no explanations given. The AARP Hartford insurance program seems to combine the maximum in arrogance with the minimum in competence, as even routine policy changes are mishandled. State complaints are pending against this program, which needs and deserves full investigation at all levels. Beware!
4) Establishment of an activist pro-Senior Citizen agency, to replace the miserable AARP -- the American Association of Retired Persons seems to have lost its real purpose about the time that it also lost its name, becoming merely AARP. Perhaps that change is symbolic, as today's AARP has become primarily a purveyor of "stuff to seniors" -- travel plans, insurance, medical products, even horoscopes and recipes. Meanwhile, vital issues affecting seniors, such as those raised above, are ignored -- it is even impossible to get any substantive replies to communications to the AARP from its own members. The Sounds of Silence are deafening at the AARP.
5) Development of a national Senior Citizen Volunteer Corps -- providing the opportunity for seniors to continue to serve America, whenever and wherever needed. We are indeed a vital resource, with experience and judgment tempered by time. We seniors are ready, willing, and able to assist with tasks ranging from enhancing national security to improving the environment to educating upcoming generations. What is lacking are organized opportunities to utilize our skills and abilities. There are many excellent local programs utilizing those skills and abilities, which should be studied, and then emulated around the nation.
May 2016 be the year for Senior Citizens to come into their own in the United States -- and to continue to make vital contributions to our society!
Eugene Elander has been a progressive social and political activist for decades. As an author, he won the Young Poets Award at 16 from the Dayton Poets Guild for his poem, The Vision. He was chosen Poet Laureate of (more...)