This summer, AARP Maine announced the results of its “ 2014 Survey of Maine Registered Voters Age 50 and Older.” Maine’s most active voting demographic weighed in on issues important to them, which include financial security, consumer protections, age-friendly communities and long-term care. Survey respondents clearly indicated that candidates must address these issues during the 2014 midterm elections in order to win their votes. During a tele-town hall with our members in September, participants raised many of the same issues.
Yet, during the debates held thus far, the candidates, and even the moderators, have largely been silent on the policy concerns of Mainers age 50 and older.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Maine’s voting participation for voters age 45 and older in the last midterm elections in 2010 among the highest in the country, with the numbers increasing exponentially with age. Not surprisingly, the numbers were even higher in the 2012 election. This demographic is not to be overlooked in 2014.
For more than 50 years, AARP has listened to the needs and concerns of its membership, now more than 231,000-strong in Maine. The recent survey revealed Mainers age 50 and older continue to be deeply concerned about financial and health security and maintaining their independence as they continue to age. These concerns are even more striking for Mainers who earn less than $20,000 a year and for women, a majority of whom believe they may never be able to retire.
Older Mainers will be counting on leadership in Augusta and in Washington to address these very prevalent concerns, which begs the question: Why are the candidates disregarding the needs and opportunities of the demographic on whom their election likely will depend?
AARP is disappointed the candidates’ discussions about economic security for Maine families has largely ignored Mainers age 50 and older. Maine is the oldest state in the nation, and these issues need to be represented. While AARP recognizes Maine faces challenges as the oldest state in the nation, people over age 50 offer Maine many opportunities.
Recent state-specific data on the longevity economy — the sum of all economic activity supported by the consumer spending of households headed by someone age 50 or older — shows that people over age 50 make a significant contribution to Maine.
For example, 68 percent of people ages 50 to 64 in Maine are employed, compared to 76 percent of people ages 25 to 49. Overall, people over age 50 represent 39 percent of Maine’s workforce. Among employed people, 16 percent of those between the ages of 50 and 64 are self-employed entrepreneurs, compared to 12 percent of those ages 25 to 49. In fact, people between the ages of 50 and 64 are the largest growing age group of entrepreneurs. Beyond the workforce, however, the purchasing power of boomers is of critical importance to Maine. Mainers over 50 comprise 52 percent of Maine’s gross domestic product. Sixty percent of consumer spending in Maine is driven by boomer households. Boomers also feel a powerful sense of legacy to make their communities stronger for their children, grandchildren and future generations.
Mainers age 50 and older have a vested interest in hearing the candidates deliver straightforward answers to the questions important to them, including how the candidates would help Americans save money so they can secure their future and live independently as they age and how they would they protect Social Security and Medicare now and for future retirees.
These issues are included in AARP’s Voters’ Guides — available at aarp.org/yourvote — and AARP members in Maine would be interested to hear candidates address them in a public forum.
AARP’s Voters’ Guides also ask the gubernatorial candidates for their solutions to certain other issues. For example, nearly 200,000 unpaid family caregivers in Maine help seniors and loved ones live independently at home — as opposed to costly nursing homes — which saves the state billions of dollars. Considering family caregivers often are on call 24/7 while holding down full-time jobs, what would the candidates do to help them continue to safely care for their loved ones at home?
The majority of Maine residents wish to stay in their homes and communities as they age. Mainers age 50 and older want to hear how the candidates will ensure electric service continues to be provided at rates that are stable, predictable and affordable. What infrastructure changes would the candidates suggest to support those age 50 and older living here now and to attract more retirees to Maine?
AARP is nonpartisan, has no political action committee and does not endorse candidates or contribute money to their campaigns. Our priority is ensuring Americans age 50 and older and their families know where each candidate stands before they cast their vote. We hope the candidates will elect to publicly address the concerns of older Mainers. We are listening, but sadly, thus far, their silence speaks volumes.
Lori Parham is the Maine state director of AARP.