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“Not OK:” How AARP Works to Fix Problems that Affect Us All

There’s a new meme lighting up social media called “OK Boomer.” Whether it’s dismissed as an insult or not, underlying that meme are real concerns that younger generations have about serious societal ills, like income inequality. AARP has a strong track record of promoting intergenerational collaboration, so we hadn’t commented specifically on the “OK Boomer” debate… until yesterday, when we did. What we said in an Axios interview was accurately reported, but when it appeared out of context on social media, it was taken as a “clap back” at Millennials. That is not what we intended. We regret how we made our case. As the adage goes, we ask that you consider our deeds and not only our words.

Axios media reporter Sara Fischer quoted my colleague saying: “OK, millennials. But we’re the people that actually have the money.” On social media, the point really got divorced from its context. We did not intend to contribute to an intergenerational feud that’s contrary to how we’ve worked for over six decades. Here is the point we wanted to make, stated a little better, I hope: “Americans age 50 and over are a significant enough source of spending power that advertising executives should not overlook us or dismiss us. It’s wrong to rest on stereotypes that older people ‘hurt their brands,’ ‘won’t try new products’ and ‘aren’t digitally literate.’” These stereotypes are not OK.

AARP is a social mission organization with nearly 38 million members. It was a startling case of poverty – a retired teacher, homeless and living in a chicken coop – that inspired AARP’s creation in 1959. What our founder, Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus, saw was not OK. Since then we have fought to ensure that all older Americans can age with dignity, independence and purpose, and we do so as collaboratively as we can. As Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus has said, “What we do, we do for all.”

If there’s one thing older generations can claim to have done right, it is that they’ve had the privilege of being the parents and grandparents of successive generations – Gen Xers, Millennials and Gen Zers. AARP may officially represent Americans 50-plus, but we know our real work for the past 60 years has been to improve society – to tackle our nation’s biggest challenges. Our track record shows we have not done that alone, we cannot do it alone in the future, and we wouldn’t want to. As citizens in this country, as equals under law and in spirit, we’re in this together; “isms” that divide us are not OK. Not ageism, not sexism, not racism. OK?

--Jason Young, SVP Media Relations for AARP


I promised an accounting of our track record on behalf of Americans of all ages, and here it is:

  • People unable to get health insurance is not OK, so we fought for the passage of the Affordable Care Act, and since then we fended off numerous attempts to repeal it. The fact that young people can stay on their parents’ health plan until age 26 has been life-saving for many. When you have a pre-existing condition, just being able to get coverage is a big deal.
  • People unable to afford their prescription drugs is not OK. Our Stop Rx Greed campaign has turned into Big Pharma’s biggest thorn, as Stat News reported. There are now 39 new states laws across 24 states and Puerto Rico to bring relief, and federal legislation is currently moving through the House and Senate. High drug prices affect all Americans, not just older Americans.
  • People living in poverty is not OK. The AARP Foundation helps seniors and their families with many important programs, like our Tax Aide program, which is a free tax preparation service for low and moderate income families to ensure households are strengthened with every available tax benefit the law affords them. We’re proud it’s the fourth largest tax prep service in the country. Or Experience Corps, which puts volunteers age 50-plus in schools, bringing tutoring and reading help to over 30,000 students each year.
  • Family caregivers living without support and resources is not OK, and our caregiving work brings the “sandwich generation” the tools, tips and help they need. We also produced a documentary about Millennial family caregiver Jesus Trejo, a rising comedian who has made many sacrifices in his journey to stardom in order to care for his aging parents. Why? Because about 1 in 4 unpaid family caregivers in the United States is a Millennial.
  • People losing their homes is not OK, and it’s especially problematic when that home is a source of family wealth that may be handed down. We have sued the reverse mortgage industry and successfully advocated for family-friendly rule changes at the industry’s federal regulator.
  • We’ve worked with partners like the Association of Young Americans and Purpose Generation. For example, in the last election cycle AYA and AARP aimed to better understand how young and older Americans can come together to create needed change on issues; through the “Three Generations Survey, we examined issues like rising student loan debt, economic anxiety, and the future of American democracy.
  • Presuming that only older people have the answers is certainly not OK, so we also bring older and younger people together for mentoring and “reverse mentoring” – to learn from one another. We have convened people on everything from the multigenerational workforce to the changing face of comedy. Don Rickles may have insulted Sarah Silverman, but we’re not going to.
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