A study released this week found that economic anxieties are the top issue for non-retired baby boomers, with 75 percent of respondents saying it’s a top concern.
While the issues of job creation and employment are dominating the presidential campaign, older voters say they are far more concerned about other economic issues, according to a new AARP survey. Those older voters also say they’re upset that candidates aren’t paying more attention to those issues.
Topping their list of economic worries:
• The opportunity to eventually retire;
• Financial security during retirement;
• The affordability of health care.
Cutting across party lines, 91 percent of respondents said the next president and Congress need to strengthen Social Security.
U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell of the 8th Congressional District, and his Republican challenger, Richard Hudson, both vow to fight long and hard to shore up Social Security.
Kissell, the incumbent Democratic congressman, said he’s long been a champion for Social Security, and has battled others who looked to whittle it down.
“I’ve fought each and every time against cuts to Social Security and Medicare, introduced the legislation that would prohibit government from constantly raiding the Social Security and Medicare trust funds, and I’ll continue to oppose any plan that leaves the security and dignity of our senior citizens up to the whims of the gamblers on Wall Street,” Kissell told the Daily Journal.
Hudson was asked, if elected, would he work to strengthen Social Security. Absolutely, said the challenger.
“First, it needs to be understood that I do not support any kind of plan that changes Social Security for anyone at or near retirement,” Hudson told the Daily Journal. “Washington Democrats will continue to try and scare seniors into thinking that we want to take away Medicare and Social Security — but that is false. What we must do is save Social Security for our children and grandchildren while keeping the promises made to seniors right now,” he said.
Kissell and Hudson will face off in the November General Election for the 8th District seat, which includes Richmond County.
The AARP survey results belie a common stereotype of baby boomers as “comfortable” and living “high on the hog” compared to everyone else, said pollster Greg Strimple of GS Strategy Group, which along with Hart Research Associates helped conduct the survey.
“You see these numbers, and they’re anything but. In fact, it’s surprising to see that 50- to 64-year-olds are the most politically and economically anxious voters,” said Strimple.
The survey, which questioned 1,852 registered voters, including 1,331 ages 50 and older, found the major driver of economic anxiety to be fear about retirement prospects:
• 72 percent of non-retired boomers believe they will probably be forced to delay retirement, and 50 percent have little confidence that they will ever be able to retire;
• 65 percent have little confidence that they will have the means to live comfortably in retirement;
• 59 percent fear that the negative effects of the economic downturn on their retirement savings will force them to rely more heavily on Social Security and Medicare — programs they are concerned that elected officials aren’t doing enough to protect.
Asked what he would say to calm the fears of older voters, Kissell said, “Our economy is still recovering, but we must be careful to keep the promises made to our senior citizens. The first step to saving Social Security and Medicare is keeping politicians’ hands out of the Trust Funds and reminding Washington that those investments belong to the people who have paid into the system. Anyone who says otherwise is part of the problem.”
Hudson took the chance to lash out at the current administration.
“President Obama’s fiscal policies, supported by Larry Kissell, are turning a recession into a prolonged economic downturn. To change the policies, we need to change our leaders. For folks at or near retirement, turning the economy around and creating real economic growth will grow the assets they need for their retirement,” said Hudson.
Nancy LeaMond, AARP executive vice president for social impact, said its research shows that older voters are among those paying the closest attention to a candidate’s message, and therefore may be the most willing to change their vote based on the issues.
“They show up on Election Day, and they also care a lot about being well educated on where candidates stand. We think that candidates ignore the 50-plus vote to their peril,” said LeaMond.
Asked to respond to her claim, Kissell said, “Politicians have missed the point and continue to play politics with our seniors and their care, but I’ve continued to make their priorities mine and have voted with the people of our district and nothing else. I have an understanding of the needs of our seniors, and my record shows that. I grew up here and have lived my entire life here, and my story has been the story of so many people throughout our district. I have listened, and will always listen to the people I represent.”
Outside looking in, challenger Hudson sees politicians being a bit selfish. “The problem is politicians in Washington are more concerned about their own re-elections than doing the right thing to save Social Security and stop deficit spending,” said Hudson. “We need to start cutting our debt and we need to pass a balanced budget amendment. That will help stop the relentless gush of our tax dollars coming out of Washington.”
Kissell said he continues to look out for the interests of older Americans.
“A promise made should be a promise kept, and we cannot gamble when it comes to the future of retired or soon-to-be-retired Americans,” Kissell said.
Asked why a 50-plus voter should cast a ballot his way instead of for his opponent, Kissell responded, “I’ll continue to fight to preserve Social Security and Medicare, and will not let politics ever get in the way of doing what is right. My opponent has stated that the Ryan Plan to end Medicare as we know it does not go far enough, and that all options are on the table. I oppose this reckless political tactic, and my record speaks to that.”
Hudson accused Kissell of turning his back on Social Security.
“My opponent’s plan for Social Security is to bury his head in the sand and allow the system to go bankrupt,” said Hudson.
Hudson said older voters ought to look his way in November, instead of the incumbent, because he promises to place the “issues concerning seniors” at the top of his list of priorities.
“Most seniors come from a time where American values and promises meant something,” Hudson said. “Today in Washington, promises are broken, deals are cut with special interests and money is given out irresponsibly in the form of stimulus programs and bailouts. Our greatest generation deserves better — and I intend to give it to them in Congress,” he said.
— Editor John Charles Robbins can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 13, or by email at email@example.com.