Both parties need to create a pro-aging party platform

Both parties need to create a pro-aging party platform
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As the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Republican National Committee (RNC) prepare for conventions, their policy committees are drafting party platforms. But when it comes to policy on aging, these platforms haven’t changed significantly in 20 years. While Social Security, Medicare and caregiving do matter, the exclusive focus on these policy issues wrongly assumes the homogeneity of older adults. In addition, it perpetuates and reinforces ageism. It’s high time the DNC and RNC take a new, broader look at their platforms to include more policies that address the modern and diverse needs of older adults.

Aging is the ultimate non-partisan issue. But common to both parties is a dependency view — the notion that getting older only means decline, deterioration and decay. This view ignores the numbers: in the 2016 Presidential election, 71 percent of Americans older than age 65 voted, compared to 46 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds; consumers older than age 50 account for more than half of all spending and control more than 70 percent of total net worth;  in 2019, 52.5 million Americans were ages 65 and older, and average life expectancy has increased.

To innovate and create policies that reflect what aging looks like in the 21st century, here are three important goals that should be added to party platforms:

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Create jobs for America’s older people

In prior party platforms, young people were singled out as beneficiaries of policies that support opportunity and promise, particularly in education, entrepreneurialism and job training. It’s clearly ageist to ignore older adults in such policies, especially when you consider the popularity of lifelong learning, that middle-age entrepreneurs are the most successful and that unemployment levels of those older than age 55 have skyrocketed.

When it costs $1 million to retire by age 65, and 21 percent of Americans have no savings, older adults want and need jobs. We must invest in bridging the digital divide for older adults in rural and urban parts of our country by deploying widespread broadband and accessible training.

We should expand grant funding to higher education to be more intentional in attracting older adult students and catalyzing the value of intergenerational learning. We should deploy powerful economic development tools, such as those at the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Department of Commerce, to launch and increase investment in age-focused incubators and accelerators that create new businesses with universal design in mind.

Federal job re-training programs must be improved to ensure older adults have the skills needed in a modern workplace. But these programs won’t have any impact if employers discriminate against the hiring of older workers. Despite studies that show older workers are more loyal and productive, there is plenty of evidence supporting age bias in the workplace. We must launch a high-profile campaign through the Ad Council that will leverage Washington, D.C., Hollywood and Madison Avenue to end ageism and demonstrate that everyone has value, no matter their age.  

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Advance age-friendly tax policies

Since 2000, both parties have proposed tweaks to tax policies that would benefit older adults. But let’s make them more age-friendly and ensure they reflect today’s realities for individuals. In 2018, half of all older households received less than $43,696 in yearly income from all sources. With the federal government taxing up to 85 percent of Social Security payments for older adults, we should eliminate the federal income tax for low-income older adults. At the same time, we need to shore up Social Security to preserve benefits for future generations, through payroll tax reforms and other means. If you can afford individual long-term care insurance, not only should you be able to deduct those premiums, but you should also earn exemptions for being a member of a multigenerational household or being a caregiver.

Corporations also could be encouraged to invest in older adults via tax incentives to retain older workers and create a multigenerational workforce, to ensure affordable senior housing and to provide caregiving tools through employee assistance programs. With less than 1 percent of philanthropic giving going to aging issues, more corporate investment can be unleashed by raising the cap on charitable giving and enhancing the Community Reinvestment Act to provide greater credits for financial institutions to invest in age-friendly supports.

While funding for many of our community-based services for older adults comes from the Older Americans Act, we should also support local community efforts to create special taxing districts to raise revenue that will support meeting far more older adults needs, the way we do with children’s services.

Expand justice for older adults

Ten years ago, the Elder Justice Act, which combats elder abuse, neglect and financial fraud and scams, became law; however, it has received less than 10 percent of the funding that was authorized, and it alone can’t possibly address the multitude of economic, health and environmental injustices older adults face today. We need to address the inequities of historically marginalized older adults, such as people of color and LGBTQ+ elders, increase income supports, create accessible housing through unique public funding programs and expand legal services to combat the rising homelessness of older adults. Homelessness in elders is predicted to more than double by 2050, from more than 44,000 in 2010 to nearly 93,000 in 2050.

While mandatory retirement due to age is generally illegal, 56 percent of workers older than age 50 are forced to leave jobs before they want to retire. We must change our laws to make it possible to prove age discrimination cases.

As we fight COVID-19, we need a national framework for administering healthcare during this and future pandemics or other public health crises so as to avoid exclusion criteria that would ration healthcare based on age.

Finally, older adults, who are regularly blamed for having contributed to global warming and climate change, have the agency, whether economically or through voting power, to ensure efforts and policies are enacted to dramatically alter the course of climate change. We also must be intentional in including and considering older adults in all environmental policy-making. Extreme heat waves, hurricanes and air pollution caused by climate change create heightened physiological and social vulnerability in older adults. Natural disasters such as fires and floods adversely impact older adults at a much higher rate, all of which could be prevented with more comprehensive disaster preparedness plans, as well as an accelerated climate change action plan.

While these goals aren’t exhaustive, our country needs new, innovative policies to support what is our new normal, and what will be our new future. It is time both parties launch visionary, broad pro-aging platforms that focus on today’s older adults and invest in future generations.

Peter Kaldes is president and CEO of the American Society on Aging.