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Important Anniversaries of Social Security, Women's Right to Vote

This 'Take on Today' episode celebrates both of the historic milestones

Three women voting

Getty Images/AARP

Wilma Consul:

Anniversaries are an opportunity to reflect on what we've learned.

Bob Edwards:

But they're also an opportunity to look forward. Today, we’re celebrating two important milestones: the 85th anniversary of Social Security and the 100th anniversary of the women’s right to vote.

And we’ll discuss why both topics are more relevant than ever.

Hi, I’m Bob Edwards

Wilma Consul:

And I’m Wilma Consul

Bob Edwards:

With An A-A-R-P Take on Today.

Bob Edwards:

President Franklin Roosevelt signed The Social Security Act on August 14, 1935.

Roosevelt:

This Social Security measure gives at least some protection to 30 millions of our citizens who will reap direct benefit through unemployment compensation, through old age pensions and through increased services for the protection of children and the prevention of ill health.

Bob Edwards:

Eighty-five years later today, it has proven to be that measure of protection for countless beneficiaries.

A new AARP survey showed that over nine in ten adults over eighteen, whether Democratic, Republican, or Independent, see Social Security as an important program. The survey also found that half of respondents said the program is more important during COVID-19, relative to before the crisis began.

Nancy LeaMond:

 

The pandemic has really put a spotlight on how critical Social Security is both for current beneficiaries and future generations. It is the only guaranteed source of income in retirement. 21 million Americans over 65 rely on Social Security for at least half of the income, and it's pretty much the only source of income for 10 million seniors.

 

Bob Edwards:

 

That’s A-A-R-P’s Nancy LeaMond. She says that high unemployment rates and Social Security are top-of-mind for older adults. They are issues that candidates will have to address in the coming election.

 

Nancy LeaMond:

 

Job losses from this pandemic has hit workers 55 and older very hard, and we know that many of these people are going to have trouble finding new jobs. Now, some will end up retiring earlier than planned making Social Security benefits even more vital.

 

AARP opposes cuts to Social Security benefits and policies that put the future of the program in any jeopardy.We're going to help our members and all 50 plus voters make their voices heard about the importance of Social Security. And to win, candidates are going to have to explain how they plan on strengthening the program now and into the future.

 

Bob Edwards:

We’ll hear more from LeaMond and more about the election later in the program.

One piece of good news for older workers: a study from AARP found that eighty-three percent of global business leaders recognize the value of a multigenerational workforce. But if you are thinking about taking retirement, Rob Clark, a former career employee of the Social Security Administration, says there are actions you can take right now to help your situation.

 

Rob Clark:

Well with social security retirement benefits, you can collect as early as the age of 62. However, if you start your benefit early, social security reduces your benefit. Social security has a full retirement age. So if somebody wants to receive their full social security, they would hold off until full retirement age.

 

Bob Edwards:

Full retirement age is determined by your birthday. For example, if you were born in 1960 or later, your full retirement age is sixty-seven. You can visit S-S-A dot gov to determine what it is for you. This is important information for those who are considering both taking Social Security benefits and working at the same time.

Rob Clark:

Once you reach full retirement age as of that month and year, you can work and collect your social security. There's no limit on your earnings. However, if you decide to start collecting your social security before your full retirement age, there are limits on how much you can earn before you start to lose benefits. For example, in 2020 somebody who's under full retirement age can earn up to $18,240 and collect all of their social security. Earn more than that, and then social security takes away $1 from your benefit for every $2 you earn over the limit.

Bob Edwards:

What other questions do you commonly hear?

Rob Clark:

Most of the questions that I run into with social security have to do with, "What are my options?" And some of them we've already talked about, can I work and collect my social security? Can I collect a social security benefit through my spouse? I was married previously, my spouse died. Do I have options on collecting my social security? So a lot of the questions I get are very personal, and I will say that AARP has a great resource on their social security website. It's AARP.org/socialsecurity. And people will find a lot of great information there.

Bob Edwards:

Another resource you can turn to is AARP’s retirement calculator. You can find it in our show notes, along with the Social Security and employer surveys mentioned earlier.

After the break, we’ll hear about the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote, the upcoming election and the ways older adults can make their voices heard safely this November.

Wilma Consul:

This month marks 100 years since the 19th Amendment was signed into law. American women have gone from having no vote to having immense power over who gets elected. According to Center for American Women and Politics, women have voted in greater numbers than men in every single presidential election for four decades. A-A-R-P Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer Nancy LeaMond believes that, come November, women are set to be the difference makers once again. But it’s not just all women. Candidates will have to court older women voters if they want to win.

Welcome to the program, Nancy.

Nancy LeaMond:

Well, thank you, Wilma. Thanks for having me today.

Wilma Consul:

Now, last week, AARP kicked off its 2020 voter engagement campaign. How is AARP getting involved this year?

Nancy LeaMond:

We're calling this year's campaign Protect Voters 50+. And that's what we're really focusing on. Making sure their voices are heard on critical issues like strengthening Social Security and Medicare, lowering prescription drug prices, and making sure they can vote safely, whether that's from home or in-person. We're putting a big emphasis on helping people understand how the election process is changing because of this pandemic. We want to empower the older voter with the information they need to decide how they want to cast their ballots and to do it safely. Campaign will also use every virtual tool you can think of to get the word out about where candidates stand on key issues and how to vote safely. We use mail, email, social media, advertising, tele town halls, video voter guides, you name it. We're probably going to use it.

Wilma Consul:

Now, this pandemic has brought up concerns about how to vote safely. What is AARP doing about this?

Nancy LeaMond:

Absolutely. We know that a lot of older Americans are concerned about this. This is a group that typically turns out in big numbers in every election and they intend to vote this year. That's why the centerpiece of our campaign is providing detailed information about voting options in every single state. There's going to be state-by-state information on the AARP website, and for the first time ever, we're publishing state editions of the bulletin, so everyone will get what's relevant to them. We're also urging policy makers to take action to ensure that all Americans can vote safely, including by expanding access to absentee voting for those who don't want to, or can't physically go to a polling place this year.

Wilma Consul:

How can our listeners find key voting information in their state?

Nancy LeaMond:

Well, since every state has its own rules, AARP is compiling state-by-state information, including the key dates, methods, and rules for voting safely at polling places and at home. The state guides are posted on the AARP website at aarp.org/election2020. And they'll also be featured in the September and October bulletins that AARP members will get in the mail. We're providing this information for all 50 states, the district of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands.

Wilma Consul:

Now, what issues are on the top of the mind of older voters like you and me, and how is this pandemic impacting these priorities?

Nancy LeaMond:

Well, it's fair to say that Social Security and Medicare are always at the top of the issue list for older voters, and this year isn't much different. The pandemic has certainly highlighted how critically important these programs are for maintaining health and financial security. Beyond that, the pandemic itself is the issue that is top of mind for 50 plus voters, primarily in terms of the devastating health impact the COVID-19 is having on older adults. But there's also concern about the economic effects, particularly for folks age 50 to 64.

A personal concern about contracting COVID-19 has been increasing in the last month or so with some polling showing as many as 88% of the 65 and older and 78% of those 50 to 64 now worried that they or someone they know will get sick. Across a lot of polling, consistent majorities of the 50 plus believe it's more important to control the spread of the virus than to restart the economy, although we see that a little bit slimmer margin among the 50 to 64 year olds.

Unemployment among workers 55 and older jumped from around 3% in March to over 13% in April. It's rebounded a little bit in July to be at about 8.8%, but it's still very high. And the increase for women 55 and older has been steeper up to around 15%. So, many low-income older Americans, often women, work in service and sales jobs that are just being decimated by COVID-19. We're hearing from older Americans who have lost their jobs, they've depleted their savings, they're struggling to pay bills and manage with a limited or reduced income. And frankly, we're still getting calls to our call center from folks waiting on their stimulus checks and asking if there's going to be another round of payments anytime soon.

It's worth noting that pre-COVID, healthcare was the top issue priority for older voters, and this was primarily about healthcare costs. So it's also a financial security issue. We did a survey in December that found fully half of 50 to 64 year olds said they could not afford their healthcare. These are pre-Medicare folks and they are really squeezed. Two in 10 have gone into debt because of medical costs, and more than a third of the pre-Medicare women have skipped care because it was too expensive. Even 30% of those over 65 said they couldn't afford their healthcare. Now, that's people on Medicare struggling to afford premiums, copays, and all the things the basic program just doesn't cover.

Wilma Consul:

Why is it crucial for the candidates and their campaigns to engage with older voters and the issues that they care about?

Nancy LeaMond:

Well, older Americans consistently vote in large numbers in election after election. They made up more than half the electorate in the last few cycles. And in 2018, almost 70% of Americans age 65 plus, and 62% of those 50 to 64 voted. That's more than 30 points higher than voters under 30. So to win, candidates need to talk about issues that matter to older voters, protecting and strengthening Social Security and Medicare and lowering prescription drug crisis.

Wilma Consul:

Now, throughout this year, AARP has specifically focused on older women voters. Can you tell me more about their impact?

Nancy LeaMond:

Sure. Women over 50 are a significant voting demographic and they're not always recognized as such. Nearly 37 million women over 50 voted in the 2018 midterms. That's 30% of all Americans who went to the polls. And they often punch above their weight in key battleground states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, and Florida, making up a larger share of the electorate than the proportion of the state's population.

 

Wilma Consul:

We talked earlier about the important issues for older voters in general, but what's on the top of the list for older women voters?

Nancy LeaMond:

Well, in these very anxious days, older women are perhaps the most anxious voters. They were more concerned than older men about financial security and healthcare before the pandemic. And so, it's safe to say that they'll be even more focused on these issues over the next few months. AARP's polling shows that 50 plus women are more worried than older men that they or their family will get sick. And they are more likely to be worried that they'll have to postpone retirement plans. That their Social Security benefits will be reduced and that they'll lose savings and investments and not be able to pay their bills on time. This is a world of a worry for them.

So this makes a world of sense when you look at who these women are and their life experience. They're harder pressed economically than men their age, and their financial security and retirement is not a sure thing. They've taken more time out of the workforce to raise kids and take care of family members, they typically have lower median incomes, they've experienced more job loss due to the pandemic and the negative impact of that will likely be longterm, and older women looking for work face that double whammy of age and gender discrimination.

Wilma Consul:

Yes.

Nancy LeaMond:

Many will likely retire early, so their savings will need to last longer and they're going to be more reliant on Social Security. But then again, their Social Security benefits are lower than men's and they have less money in the retirement accounts. There is no wonder that they're worried as they go to the polls this year. I should also mention that in an election year that's likely to focus a lot on healthcare, women are also considered their family's chief healthcare officer and many struggle to afford the care they need. Two thirds say that if they didn't manage the health of their household, it wouldn't get done, and nearly four in 10 can't afford to pay for healthcare, including half of older women. Nearly three in 10 said they skipped care because it was too expensive.

Wilma Consul:

Well, you've covered a lot of ground, Nancy. Thank you so much for all that information. Nancy LeaMond is AARP's chief advocacy and engagement officer. Thank you for joining us.

Nancy LeaMond:

Thanks Wilma. Thanks for having me.

Wilma Consul:

And if you'd like to know more about AARP's voter engagement campaign, Protect Voters 50+, you can go to aarp.org/election2020.

 

Wilma Consul:

If you liked this episode, please comment on our podcast page at A-A-R-P dot org slash podcasts or email us at newspodcast @ A-A-R-P dot org

Thanks to our news team.

Producers Colby Nelson and Danny Alarcon

Production Assistant Brigid Lowney

Engineer Julio Gonzalez

Executive Producer Jason Young

And, of course, our co-host Mike Ellison.

Bob:

For An AARP Take on Today, I’m Bob Edwards.

Wilma:

And I’m Wilma Consul.

Bob:

Thanks for listening.

This month marks Social Security’s 85th anniversary and 100 years since women were granted the right to vote. Today, we discuss and celebrate how these milestones are more important than ever.

For more information:
Election 2020
Celebrating Social Security's 85th Birthday
Global Employer's Survey

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