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COVID-19 ‘Inflamed Age Discrimination,’ Says AARP Chief Public Policy Officer

An attractive gray-haired 85-year-old elderly woman drinks espresso in the kitchen and looks out the window.
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En español | The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately threatened the health and well being of older adults, who are more likely to get seriously ill from when infected. But it also exposed elements of ageism and age discrimination as health officials weighed how best to respond, says Deb Whitman, executive vice president and chief public policy officer at AARP.

Speaking to a group of journalism fellows at the National Press Foundation on Sunday, Whitman said age discrimination “is so pervasive that we don’t even notice it.” She recalled some people having “conversations about how older people should just sacrifice themselves for the good of the economy and their grandchildren” as a response to COVID-related shutdowns. “The pandemic, I think, inflamed age discrimination,” she said.

Among the other topics Whitman discussed:

  • Caregiving: “I call caregivers the invisible army because there's 41 million Americans who are taking care of people... So if we had to pay them, that would be almost $500 billion.”
  • Inflation: Social Security is indexed to inflation, so payments are expected to increase next year. But “inflation really eats away at all of the things that you can spend on.”
  • State-facilitated retirement savings programs: AARP has been urging state lawmakers to set up mandatory savings programs to help people prepare for retirement, with recent successes in Delaware and Hawai’i. “Half the country doesn't work for an employer that allows you to save for retirement. And that makes it really hard because if it's not automatically taken out, very few people just do it on their own,” Whitman said.

Watch a recording of the event.

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