Long-term care and income security are two of the most pressing problems facing our aging society, the executive director of the American Association of Retired Persons says.
Howard Deets was in Salt Lake City Monday for three days of association leadership meetings with volunteers from Colorado, Montana, Utah and Wyoming. He stopped by the Deseret News office to talk about the organization's priorities and some of the recent negative articles that have been written about the association in the national press."There's no question that the pressing question for an aging population is long-term care," he said. "But we also need to look at issues like income security and retirement planning, as well as general access to health care.
"We start to age at birth. So the things we do - education, publications, lobbying - are for more than just those who are elderly today."
By the year 2000, he said, the work force will have 14 percent fewer workers age 20-24, and 14.6 percent fewer who are 25-40. Anyone over 40 is loosely categorized as an "older" worker.
"The whole area of income security needs to be faced," he said. "I'd like to see greater employment opportunities and chances for advancement for older workers. That's critical given the substantial change we're expecting by 2000 in the work force and the work place. Companies who will have the best success into the next century are going to be those who can retain their older workers."
Other key issues being studied by the association include help for elderly people who are "house poor" but have equity, and housing for low-income elderly Americans.
Deets said his organization doesn't take a position on an issue unless there is a clear consensus among the board members, who are "about 20 percent uncommitted, 40 percent Republican and 40 percent Democrats." The stands they take, he said, almost always turn out to agree with a majority of the population.
"(The media) have said we're too powerful," Deets laughed. "If that's true, why haven't we been able to put through some of the long-term health legislation that the majority of the people support? But a much smaller group has successfully opposed gun-control legislation, although clearly many more support it.
"We'd be dangerous if we used our size and power against the will of the people. But we've never been accused of doing that. We work on a self-help basis."
America has made tremendous strides in advertising, entertainment and portrayal of the elderly in general, he said.
"We have more positive images, and we're making progress. People don't automatically think old means slowed down or dependent."
In fact, he said, studies show that most people refer to themselves as "older" or "young at heart" instead of "old," and tend to set their standards for middle- and old-age about five years ahead of where they personally are.