With the election just more than a week away, politicians and proposition committees are reaching out to voters age 50 and older to help seal their success on the November ballot. The 50 plus demographic, which includes millions of caregivers and their elderly parents, are intensely concerned about issues like Social Security and Medicare.
Nearly half of Americans who vote are over the age of 50. According to U.S. News and World Report, in 2010 more than 61 percent of seniors aged 65 or older voted in the November election. Only 37 percent of Americans aged 25 to 44 voted. The number of 18-24 year-old voters was even worse at 21 percent.
This year, seniors are more excited about voting than any election since 1994 according to the Pew Research Center. While youth were given the credit for the Obama revolution, it is the older generation that is wielding more power now.
This demographic is voting for so many reasons, but largely in part because the economics for seniors have become dire. Many seniors have a fixed income and are finding their local, state and federal taxes take a bigger bite out of their retirement income than ever before.
Social Security benefits are decreasing. Two-thirds of seniors rely solely on Social Security for income. Last week, there was an announcement that seniors can expect a 1.7 percent increase for 2013, which equates to $13 per month for a low income senior whose average monthly check is $830. With the rising costs of health care, rent, food, gas (if they are lucky enough to own a car), etc., this small raise won't even be noticed. Over the last four years, the average increase of Social Security benefits equates to 1.25 percent (2009 and 2010: no increase, 2011: 3.6 percent, 2012: 1.5 percent). Seniors are definitely feeling the squeeze.
If you are a senior who is fortunate enough to have savings, your ability to make ends meet has been hampered by historically low rates of return. This is why many seniors around the country are being forced to draw down the corpus of their savings. Many are reluctant to do so because those dollars represent their only safety net.
For senior citizens, it’s a double squeeze. While incomes for retirees are going down, costs are going up.
That’s why it’s important for seniors and those who love them to do their homework and make certain their vote is going toward politicians who listen to older Americans and to legislation that back senior viability. Despite the attention on the presidential race, we must also be mindful of our local elections, and understand which candidates running for city, county and state positions are supportive of seniors and will advocate on their behalf.
The decisions we make today shape our future. Consider your legacy when you make your choices on Nov. 6 and remember that supporting seniors is the right thing to do.
Downey is the president and CEO of Senior Community Centers, a nonprofit agency dedicated to increasing the quality of life for San Diego seniors living in poverty. Learn more at servingseniors.org.