As Marc Freedman, the founder and CEO of Encore.org noted in The Wall Street Journal last week, with the exception of Ted Cruz, age 45, all the remaining candidates of both parties are old enough for Social Security.
Bernie Sanders – 74
Donald Trump - 69
Hillary Clinton - 68
John Kasich – 63 (okay, early Social Security in his case)
Before I go any further, I must take a moment to throw some kudos to Mr. Freedman for this important statement in his WSJ piece (emphasis is mine):
”...what about the vast majority of the older population who are neither frail nor dependent, who are far from being elderly.”
Words matter, and he is the only person writing about elders I can recall – in the media in general but also among many who work in the ageing business – who does not use the word “elderly” to mean old people. Elderly means, as his sentence makes clear, “frail and dependent.” We must stop using it as a synonym for old.
The point of Freedman's essay is that although there has been, refreshingly, no pejorative discussion this election season of the candidates' ages, neither have any of them spoken up about the unprecedented and ongoing demographic increase of the nation's – and the world's – oldest citizens.
They have all failed, says Freedman – and I agree – to show any leadership for this revolutionary change in population numbers, addressing only (and barely as far as I can see) what he calls the “liability lens” - illness, dependency, caregiving, Social Security and Medicare.
What Freedman is looking for from the candidates is support for longer working lives for elders who want it and for the millions who, like the candidates, would welcome the chance to continue serving to society but lack the resources of the candidates.
”Can you imagine Clinton, Sanders, Trump, Kasich or Bloomberg characterizing themselves as 'seniors' and 'elderly'? asks Freedman. “A great many in the candidates' cohort don't identify with these labels, or associations they conjure.
“Yet the candidates have largely missed an opportunity to use their own age to argue for the power of experience and potential contribution of their many peers-citizens who have much to offer at a time that was once associated with being put out to pasture.”
None of this, certainly, is to ignore the importance of policy positions on Social Security and Medicare which are still woefully missing from candidates on the campaign trail. But I strongly suspect that if Freedman's appeal to Clinton, Sanders, Kasich and Trump were to be answered, fixes to earned benefits would naturally follow.
Perhaps a place for the candidates to start is the bully pulpit, to speak directly to their age-mates, explaining that they understand experience isn't always views as an asset in today's society, but that the nation needs us...
“Assuming this leadership might not only help the candidates win the support of a demographic group that will be influential come November, but launch a much-needed debate in America: one focused on how we can make the most of a new era of longer lives.
“That's a question with the potential to reshape what it means to grow older – as individuals and as a nation – for generations to come.”
That's not ignoring other age groups. It is about elders contributing to business, paying taxes, participating in volunteer opportunities that benefit everyone for as long as they desire to do so and are able. There is no down side to this.