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How America Can Afford to Grow Older: A Vision for the Future

the National Press Club, Newsmaker Luncheon

AARP is engaged in all this. This month we will launch a major workforce initiative that began with our Home Depot partnership and now involves many major employers, as well as the governors of a number of states.

So, with moderate adjustments to Social Security, with increased individual savings and investment, and by advancing the idea of continued work, America can afford to grow older without shifting the burden to younger generations.

Now, let's turn to our third opportunity—creating more livable communities. Most older people want to stay where they are-at home, in familiar surroundings. This may seem obvious, but there are many barriers to living in our own homes and communities for as long as possible.

To remain independent in this automobile society, people need to be able to drive safely as long as possible. And when they can no longer drive, they must have ways to avoid social isolation.

Many communities lack the features and services—from pharmacies to super markets to doctors to churches—that people can get to without driving.

So, how do they get around? In cities with mass transit, there are obvious possibilities. But in the suburbs—where nearly half the population lives—mass transit is not always available. And in rural communities, it is simply not there.

A second key to helping people age independently in place is building or modifying houses to more easily accommodate older people. Successful aging in place means that people can afford to live in decent housing that meets their needs and helps them remain independent.

There is a powerful message in this about quality of life for older people and their adult children, who are often caregivers. And continued independent living also means substantial cost savings for society and for families.

Congresswoman Barbara Jordan said, "What people want is… an America as good as its promise." Achieving this requires a balance between what society can do and what we must do ourselves. We may have to pay a little more, exercise a little more, save a little more, and maybe work a little longer. But we can do it.

I've talked about health and health care, about retirement security and about livable communities. With the changes I've described, America can afford to age, and we'll all benefit from a society in which the wisdom and time and efforts of older people are a vital part of our lives.

But the longer we study and debate and wallow in gloom and doom, the worse our problems will become…and the less time we will have to solve them equitably. The sooner we take on these challenges, the less likely it is that we will leave them for the next generation.

I have said throughout my remarks that AARP is engaged. What does that mean? I mean that through our members and volunteers, such as Jeanne Tilghman, our publications and partnerships, our state offices, through products and services that contribute to social good, and through legislative and legal advocacy, we are determined to make a difference for America. We have a strong social impact agenda, and we're on the job.

Back in my college days at Penn, we had a trainer, a white haired Philadelphia Irishman named John Brennan, who would tape you up, shake your hand and with a twinkle in his eye, say, "There you are. I'm glad you met me." I sometimes think of John Brennan as the kind of guy we represent at AARP.

We stand up for the John Brennans and their families. No permanent friends, no permanent enemies in Washington, just enduring interests.

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