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Bulletin Poll: Jobs and Health Care Among Top Priorities for Congress in 2010

Americans say the Obama administration and Congress should give top priority to creating jobs and reforming the nation’s health care system in 2010, according to an AARP Bulletin Today poll. It was the second time in two years that poll respondents cited health care and jobs as the most pressing issues lawmakers should address in the new year.

Of the 1,004 people age 18 and over who were polled, 27 percent said that helping Americans find work should be government leaders’ top priorities for 2010; 25 percent said the same for 2009. Among those 50-plus, the issue took on more importance this year: 25 percent said it should be a primary focus in 2010 compared with 21 percent in 2009.

That may come as no surprise since double-digit unemployment took hold in late 2009. In November, the jobless rate fell to 10 percent from 10.2 percent in October. But for workers age 55 and older, the unemployment rate rose to 7.1 percent in November from 7 percent one month earlier.

Also, the percentage of older people in long-term unemployment—those who were out of work for 27 weeks or longer—spiked to 51.4 percent in November, up from 46 percent in October.

Katie Marshall, 69, a retired librarian from Mobile, Ala., says Congress must focus on “getting jobs back in America because there are too many people out of work.”

“People are losing their houses because they don’t have jobs anymore,” she says. “Some towns not far from us, between Mobile and Montgomery, are ghost towns. Stores have closed down. I know too many people who had a job and don’t have a job anymore.”

After jobs, health care was a hot topic among those polled: 17 percent said enacting reforms should be a primary focus among lawmakers for 2010, compared with 18 percent who said that in 2009.

Providing coverage for all Americans was the most important aspect of reform for 19 percent of respondents; 14 percent cited affordable health insurance options as the top reform priority; another 14 percent said it was reducing fraud and waste. Protecting Medicare benefits was the key concern for 11 percent of respondents age 50-plus.

Resolving the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan also resonated with those polled—16 percent cited it as the most important issue that Congress should tackle this year. In 2009, cutting taxes rounded out the top three priorities among poll participants.

Reducing the budget deficit was a top priority for 9 percent in 2010; last year, 11 percent cited it as such.

Preventing home foreclosures didn’t seem to demand the attention of many poll participants, even though as many as one in seven homes was delinquent or in foreclosure at the end of 2009, according to the Center for American Progress, a think tank in Washington. Only 2 percent of those surveyed thought it should be a top priority for Congress in 2010, compared with 6 percent who said the same in 2009.

Perhaps that issue was low on the list of priorities among respondents because lawmakers and the administration have implemented foreclosure prevention programs over the last two years.

Carole Fleck is a senior editor at the AARP Bulletin.

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