It’s been said, “growing old isn’t for sissies.”  If you or someone you love has been there, you’ll likely agree. Thankfully, Americans have Social Security and Medicare to help ease their transition into retirement and improve the likelihood they’ll age financially and medically secure.  Social Security keeps 22 million Americans out of poverty while Medicare provides universal healthcare for 55 million seniors and people with disabilities. Social Security and Medicare are among our nation’s most successful federal programs, touching the lives of virtually every American family.  In spite of this, these programs continue to be political targets by those who have tried to pit young vs. old by creating a generational battle over limited budget resources. 

Portraying America’s parents and grandparents as “greedy geezers” who care only about their own benefits (which they’ve earned after a lifetime of work) at the expense of future generations is one of the most pernicious examples of the ageism that is all too common in our nation.  We see it in the workplace, in public debate, between generations and in social policy. If I could change one thing about aging in the U.S. it would be how our government leaders address ageism through public law. They must ensure that all retirees and their families, present and future, have ample and easy access to health, income and job security, community supports and a robust aging network that offers choice, independence and dignity.

The retirement of America’s Baby Boom generation has provided us with a unique opportunity to create innovative and responsive aging policies that would serve our nation well for generations to come.  Unfortunately, we have not done enough to modernize and revolutionize our aging policies. It’s not like we didn’t know the Baby Boom generation would retire someday. America built schools when this growing demographic was young, houses as they matured, and large surpluses in the Social Security Trust Fund in anticipation of their retirement.  However, now that ten thousand boomers turn 65 each day, the greying of America is too often presented as simply a drain on our national resources and, even worse, used as an opportunity to pit generations against each other.

Ageism pervades our policy discourse squandering this unique opportunity in our history to create policies, systems and programs that tap into the wealth of experience, knowledge and opportunities that our aging community provides. The 14% of America now over 65 years old should be at the heart of public policies to improve our nation’s healthcare system; and increase employment opportunities, fair housing, and economic equity that can stretch across all generations. 

“It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” –Vice President Hubert Humphrey

We must fight back against ageism which ignores the reality that America is strongest when the young, old and everyone in between are economically empowered, healthy and secure. 

Max Richtman
National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, President/CEO