Seniors Are Gaining Power Like Never Before

Dec. 21, 2004
Ignoring their clout could be fatal to your career

The number of older citizens is increasing at a rapid pace. By the year 2030, the over-65 age group in the U.S. will be more than 65 million strong, twice the number alive today, says Ken Dychwald in Age Wave (1990, Bantam). Those 85 and older will number more than 8 million, two-and-one-half times the number alive today. Not only are there more older citizens, but they're wealthier and wiser than any other voting group. And they are more organized than any other political group. They are, indeed, a political and economic force to be recognized, respected, and reckoned with. Ten years ago, according to the Bureau of the Census, 69% of American citizens 65 or older voted. Today that percentage is closer to 75%. The American Assn. of Retired Persons and other groups that lobby for seniors' rights are among the most powerful who walk the halls of Congress or work the state legislatures. AARP has won almost all of its political battles. And it is not alone. Groups such as the National Council of Senior Citizens, the National Alliance of Senior Citizens, and the Gray Panthers are stalking the political jungles just as relentlessly and effectively. The AARP alone has a volunteer force of 400,000 and 1,200 paid employees. Politicians aren't the only ones who need to pay attention to this growing population. Today there are more senior citizens than teenagers. Seniors have the highest per capita discretionary income of any age group in the United States. Those between the ages of 55 and 64 have the greatest net worth. And those who are 50 and over own the largest percentage of America's private wealth. After years of catering to the young markets--the teenagers, the yuppies, the baby boomers--marketers are finally discovering that their is more gold to be found among the silver-haired than any other age group. Seniors buy things. Seniors travel. Seniors read. Seniors play. Seniors develop romantic relationships. Seniors support their children. Seniors spoil their grandchildren. Seniors go to the theater, to the symphony, and to the opera. Seniors go to college, to lectures, and to self-improvement seminars. Most seniors do not think of themselves as old. They think of themselves as 70-year-old versions of themselves when they were 50. Any politician or business leader brave enough to support issues offensive to this group, such as changes in social security or Medicare benefits, is writing his political obituary. Any politician or business leader who fails to recognize the awesome clout of the elderly is about to be an ex-politician or ex-business leader. An example: It took less than 100 hours (not 100 days) for organizations representing seniors to kill the plan to cut $60 billion from the Medicare benefit budget. Arnold Bennett, a spokesperson for Families USA, noted, "We led a national uprising. It was easy to do because everybody was so upset about it." Seniors believe the advertising slogan, "They're not getting older, just better." Most of them want to continue to make a contribution. Most of them want to feel wanted and needed. They will not be taken for granted. Nor ignored.

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