It was a shocker early Friday morning when, in a front page Wall Street Journal story*, AARP reversed its long-standing opposition to cuts in Social Security. According to WSJ reporter Laura Meckler,
"AARP now has concluded that change is inevitable, and it wants to be at the table to try to minimize the pain...The shift, which has been vetted by AARP's board...is now the group's stance...”
The response was thunderous even here on my laptop. Alerts and messages from other newspapers, advocacy groups, websites, blogs, friends and TGB readers were coming in so fast that my inbox wouldn't hold still long enough for me to click on any of them.
Undoubtedly, AARP's inbox influx was even heavier and by afternoon the CEO, A. Barry Rand, issued a press release characterizing the WSJ story as “misleading,” stating that AARP's position on Social Security had not changed but he did not deny that the group is open to cutting benefits.
Further, in his statement, Mr. Bond repeated that most egregiously insulting “selling point” touted by Republicans who want to gut Social Security and Medicare:
“It has also been a long held position [of AARP] that any changes would be phased in slowly, over time, and would not affect any current or near term beneficiaries."
I just don't get how anyone believes elders in vast numbers would sell out their children and grandchildren as long as they get to keep Social Security (or Medicare) for themselves. I also don't understand why no one – from the media to the best, most fierce advocates for Social Security and Medicare - don't point out this hateful assumption about old people.
A February Wall Street Journal poll found that 84 percent of Americans 65 and older are opposed to Social Security cuts. Other polls come up with similar numbers. Nevertheless, as the WSJ story points out, AARP is now williing to alienate a large portion of its 37 million members. To win them over to the group's new point of view, reported Mecker in her story,
“AARP is preparing coast-to-coast town hall meetings to explain the problem and the possible solutions.”
Cuts should not be part of the solution. For too many elders, a cut as small as five or ten dollars makes a negative difference in their lives. As Jared Bernstein pointed out Friday on his blog,
“You might get the impression from this debate that Soc Sec benefits are chump change to seniors. But in fact:
“…for recipients age 65 and up on, Social Security is about two-thirds of their income and that share grows with age—for the old-elderly, it’s closer to 70% of their income. Other data show that for a third of those over 65, Social Security accounts for at least 90% of their income.”
Although AARP was an ally in the fight against President George W. Bush's campaign to privatize Social Security in 2005, and I greatly respect the organization's research arm in particular, I have always questioned their dedication to elder issues. After all, the majority of their revenue - $1.4 billion in 2010 – comes from insurance and financial products sales and royalties, not membership dues.
I'm not alone in that concern and now, with the group's support of benefit cuts, some Social Security advocates who are far more important that I am suggest it is time to burn our AARP cards.
One of them is Eric Kingson, a professor of social work at Syracuse University, former adviser to President Barack Obama on Social Security during the 2008 campaign and co-chair of Strengthen Social Security:
“[S]adly and with respect for many good people associated with AARP,” he said, writing at FireDogLake, “I have decided to make the supreme sacrifice and 'burn my AARP card' and recommend that others consider doing so as well.
“No more AARP discounts, free Magazines with Katie Couric, Sally Field, Michael Fox, Goldie Hawn, Condoleezza Rice, Robin Williams, Robert Redford, Harrison Ford and others emblazoned each month on its cover – all fine people but hardly typical of the nation’s very diverse population of boomers and elders. Oh well.”
It would be best if large groups of elders did this together but there is a glitch in my participation. The least expensive and most comprehensive Medicare Part B coverage for me is sponsored by AARP and requires membership, so I'm stuck. For now.
But unless AARP renounces its Social Security benefits cut policy, come renewal time at the end of the year I will find another provider. It will undoubtedly cost more, but adding the price of my AARP membership to the budget will help.
*NOTE: The Wall Street Journal is behind a paid firewall. If you are not a subscriber, you can read the original story by typing these exact words (with the quotation marks) into Google: "Key Seniors Association Pivots on Benefit Cut”. Then click the link to the story that will show up at the top of the search results.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ann Favreau: Tornado