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AARP Is Working to Change the Conversation About Aging

How Chief Public Policy Officer Debra B. Whitman and her team are improving the lives of older people

a portrait of debra whitman

April Greer

What is your role at AARP?

I lead a talented and passionate team that develops our public policy positions and solutions, works to improve our brain health and tries to change the conversation about aging across the U.S. and around the world.

What are you trying to achieve with your work at AARP?

We work to improve the lives of older people and their families. That includes creating solutions to strengthen programs like Social Security and Medicare and to help people save for retirement, keep them healthier and support them as caregivers.

Describe a victory by your team.

We developed a program, BankSafe, to train financial services employees to protect consumers from financial exploitation. In our first two years we have stopped $34 million from leaving their accounts.

Lighting Round

Currently on my nightstand: Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder

If I could go anywhere, I would: Visit my parents in Washington state

Person who inspires me: Chef José Andrés, who's given away thousands of meals during the pandemic

What makes you excited about aging in America?

People are living longer than at any time in human history.

What makes you angry about aging in America?

Life expectancy has actually declined for certain populations, especially during the pandemic. It is a tragedy that race, where you live and the resources you have can impact how long you live.

What are the most challenging battles you and your team encounter?

Making sure programs like Social Security and Medicare protect the Baby Boomer population and preparing our retirement savings and health care systems to support them.

What values of AARP founder Ethel Percy Andrus inspire you?

Dr. Andrus was both a visionary and a pragmatist. She envisioned innovative ideas but also rolled up her sleeves to make things happen!

What should people know about AARP?

The commitment to making the world better. I've never been part of a more mission-oriented organization.

What is your most important short-term goal?

Addressing the problems in our long-term care system that were exposed by COVID-19 and rebuilding them to be better.

What is your most passionate long-term goal?

To make sure we make the most of our years. Most people prepare for the first half of their lives but don't know how to make the second half as fulfilling and secure.

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