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50-Plus Voters Want Politicians to Walk in Their Shoes

New AARP campaign focuses on people’s everyday struggles

If Cathy and Doug Ricketts had a candidate for office in their kitchen, they would urge him to walk the walk, not talk the talk when it comes to serving the people of rural America. Angie Roman would want her elected leader to understand how vital it is that the government support family caregivers like her and her husband, who put their lives on hold to care for their loved ones.

Roman and the Ricketts are just three of the more than 35,000 older Americans who answered AARP’s call to describe their everyday struggles as part of a new “In My Shoes” campaign.

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“We’ve heard from older Americans that they feel invisible and that politicians don’t understand the challenges they face every day,” says Nancy LeaMond, AARP executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer. “They want candidates to take a walk in their shoes and focus on the issues that matter to them.”

With the midterm elections quickly approaching, public opinion surveys find that voters are unhappy with the job their elected officials are doing. A September AARP poll of likely voters found 78 percent of men age 50 and older and 75 percent of women 50-plus believe elected officials do a “just fair or poor job” of understanding the everyday challenges of people like them.

Historically, older adults vote in greater numbers than any other age group. In the 2018 midterm elections, 56 percent of voters ages 45 to 59 and 66 percent of voters 60 and older cast ballots. That compares with a 33 percent turnout among those ages 18 to 29. AARP’s September poll of older voters found that 96 percent of men and 93 percent of women are motivated to vote this November.

“Americans age 50-plus will make up the majority of the electorate this year,” says LeaMond. “Candidates ignore them at their peril.”

In a series of focus groups with women 50-plus earlier this year, one woman said she would like to see a politician come to her house and watch her give her 92-year-old mother-in-law a shower so he could understand the challenges caregivers face. That comment prompted AARP to launch the “In My Shoes” campaign to share the struggles of the 50-plus population.

Caregiving often a struggle

For Roman and her husband, Philip, caregiving for their parents was all-consuming, first in Arizona where her parents lived and later when they moved to Pennsylvania to take care of her husband’s mom and dad.

“We did it willingly,” says Roman. “But we had to turn our lives upside down in order to accomplish it.” Her husband gave up his business in Arizona when they traveled east and moved in with her in-laws.

If politicians “quit the politics and really got out and talked to people,” Roman says, perhaps they could relate to the needs of family caregivers and realize they could help out families and save the government money at the same time. “We saved the government thousands of dollars because my in-laws didn’t have to go into a nursing home. There are good families out there that are providing good care that are really hurting.”

Roman is realistic about how to get a politician’s attention. “I know that their focus is fine-tuned to what’s placed in front of them,” she says, so she hopes if politicians hear more stories like her family’s, it might make a difference.

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Rural America is misunderstood

Cathy Ricketts doesn’t think politicians “really understand small town and rural existence and they have become so beholden to the money that drives the whole system that that’s what dictates policy, not the everyday needs and wants of the people they serve in rural areas.”

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Courtesy of Cathy and Doug Ricketts

Cathy and Doug Ricketts, both 70, live in Lipscomb County, Texas, in the state’s Panhandle. She was a reporter for a local newspaper and worked for county government.

If a politician came to visit the Ricketts, Doug would impress upon them the need for everyone to have adequate health care. Both of them have Medicare and are grateful for it, but Doug remembers the difficulty of affording health insurance as a self-employed artist and furniture maker.

Cathy attributes much of the lack of empathy on the part of politicians to the increased divisiveness in the country. “I just feel like politicians don’t prioritize people in the whole community. I think they lose touch because of all the polarization. They say they’re trying to help everyone but in reality that’s not what’s happening.”

The Ricketts also believe that oftentimes rural areas become what they called outposts and politicians aren’t concerned with the quality of life of everyday people. Says Cathy: “I would appreciate it if they’d stop grandstanding.”

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