More than in any other election in recent history, voters this November will elect leaders whose decisions and actions will directly affect their lives. This is especially true, experts say, as Americans continue to cope with the coronavirus and the economic toll it has taken on the country.
"This is the election that hits home,” says John J. Pitney, professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College in California. “The coronavirus affects every single American. I don't think anybody in this country has been unscathed.”
Older voters are going to be assessing candidates largely on this issue, agrees Robert Blendon, professor of health policy and political analysis at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “This election is going to be about whether Washington really did all that could have been done,” he says.
Public opinion surveys have consistently shown that older adults want to know where candidates stand on a range of key issues, among them Medicare, Social Security, the cost of prescription drugs, the economy and long-term care. Here's a snapshot of what's at stake and where AARP stands on these topics.
What's at stake: Ensuring that older workers can recover from the economic downturn that the nation has faced since the pandemic began.
Where AARP stands
• Congress should extend emergency unemployment benefits until the pandemic's economic effects end.
• Federal and state lawmakers should require paid sick and family leave benefits for all workers.
• State and federal lawmakers should provide more support, including tax credits, to family caregivers.
• Employers should be monitored and held accountable for not discriminating against older workers when hiring picks up.
The issue: In April the unemployment rate for older workers reached its highest level since the federal government began keeping records in 1948, according to Richard Johnson, director of the Program on Retirement Policy at the Urban Institute. Unlike in past recessions, Johnson says, the jobless rate (as of June) was higher for workers age 65 and older than for those 25 to 54.
As employers have moved to open the economy, Americans 50-plus are having to balance their personal health concerns with their need to work. Many older people also have had to take on caregiving duties during the pandemic, which means they may not be able to work at their full capacity.
President: Whoever is president in 2021 and will set the nation's economic agenda and decide whether to sign legislation Congress passes and sends to his desk.
Senators and members of the House of Representatives: They will have oversight over the administration's economic policies and the power to pass legislation that would help stop age discrimination; change the nation's tax structure; and provide any added stimulus payments, federal paid sick and family leave, or enhanced jobless benefits.
Governors and state legislators: These leaders can decide whether to enact laws on age discrimination or paid sick and family leave, and have the power to set levels of unemployment insurance.
What older Americans think
According to a poll done for AARP this spring, 58 percent of Americans over age 50 had to contact a credit card company to seek relief from a bill they couldn't pay, and 39 percent said their financial situation had gotten worse since the coronavirus pandemic began.