Political Dodgeball: Updating Social Security

En español | You may have played dodgeball as a child. If you didn’t, the premise is pretty simple: Dodge any ball that is hurled in your direction while trying to throw balls at other players to knock them out of the game. The last two people in the game usually square off in some form of “chicken,” and the last person standing wins.

Sounds eerily reminiscent of our political process for the presidency too, doesn’t it? Avoid specifics and instead hurl volleys at the other players.

Voters deserve better. That’s why AARP launched Take a Stand — a national campaign to press the presidential candidates to lay out their plans to make Social Security financially sound and ensure it provides adequate income for future generations. We did this in hopes of avoiding the dodgeball game.  But when asked where they stand on the future of Social Security, most of the candidates are still playing a game of dodgeball.

So we commissioned a nationwide survey of likely voters 50 and older to ask, among other things, what qualities the next president should have. Not surprising, one of the top characteristics mentioned: leadership.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand why 86 percent of people said leadership as a very important quality; after all, the president is the leader of our government. But right now, the candidates for president are not leading the policy debate, especially when it comes to Social Security.

America needs the candidates to prove that they can lead. A key component of that is having a Social Security plan. In total, 82 percent of 50-plus voters view having a Social Security plan as a basic threshold of leadership. Furthermore, people want specifics about that plan. “Raising the retirement age” or “expanding Social Security” are just sound bites; those statements aren’t specific enough for Americans to understand what a candidate means. Why don’t we talk about how and who is affected if the retirement age is increased? Does that include individuals that are performing hard, laborious work? How do we pay for an expansion of benefits?

To be completely frank, 50-plus voters don’t want a sound bite; they want a candidate’s plan.

And it’s easy to understand why the 50-plus are so concerned about Social Security. Nearly 40 percent of the respondents are dissatisfied with their retirement savings.

That’s especially worrisome because if our leaders fail to update Social Security, future retirees could lose, up to $10,000 a year. When you’re living on a fixed income or what is left of your 401(k), that’s a significant loss. Additionally, with the Great Recession just behind us, financial concerns are also job related. Even in this improved job market, individuals age 50 and older still face uphill battles regarding reemployment. In 2014, 45 percent of unemployed people 55 and older were jobless for longer than 27 weeks, which potentially means delaying saving for retirement or even delaying retirement itself.

But assuming that you are in a stable employment position, the realization that you will need to live off what’s left of savings or what you get from Social Security can be frightening. To put that in perspective, here are a few facts:


These types of impending costs, coupled with Washington’s lack of action in numerous ways, are weighing heavy on 50-plus voters’ hearts this election cycle. One in three respondents felt that D.C. gridlock seriously affected their financial situation. Instead of the substantive debate that we deserve, we get name-calling and rancor.

You may be thinking, “Why should the candidates care about this poll?” Because Americans 50 and older have been the largest voting bloc in the election so far. Just over half of the votes in the Democratic primaries and nearly 60 percent of the votes in the Republican primaries have been cast by 50-plus voters! If I were running, I’d take the majority of the people electing me seriously; so too should the candidates.

Americans are tired of playing childish games when it comes to the future and the serious challenges that face our nation. I encourage the candidates to Take a Stand and talk about the specifics of their plans for Social Security today, so that the national discussion on Social Security may begin. That is what the 50-plus and the rest of America are looking for in a presidential candidate — the courage to lead.

Nancy LeaMond, chief advocacy and engagement officer and executive vice president of AARP for community, state and national affairs, leads government relations, advocacy and public education for AARP’s social change agenda. LeaMond also has responsibility for AARP’s state operation, which includes offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

You can follow her on Twitter  @NancyLeaMond .

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