Mr. President, just
last month we celebrated Older American's month, a time to reflect on the
contribution of older Americans to our society -- to their families, their
communities, and their nation. For many seniors, these "golden years" are the
most valuable time in their lives, a time when they may no longer have the
day-to-day aggravations of work, and can concentrate their time and efforts on
something else -- grandchildren, lifelong passions, learning new skills,
acquiring knowledge, or participating in creative endeavors.
But that is not the
case for many seniors. In too many instances, seniors who have worked and
saved a lifetime find that today's cost of living far exceeds the level they
can afford. Despite planning and frugality, today's costs simply have
exceeded the means of many older Americans, and they find that the visions of
the secure life they had expected post-retirement are now more a nightmare
than a dream.
A big part of the
problem is the value that our society places on the elderly -- it is much too
is all too prevalent in the workplace. Long-held stereotypes -- that seniors
are slow, forgetful, less competent than their younger counterparts -- limit
opportunities for older workers and prevent businesses from benefiting from
well-honed talents. Those stereotypical images are just plain wrong. To be
65 today is not like it was when I was young. The idea of pushing seniors out
the door to make room for younger workers is, itself, antiquated. I grew up
during the Great Depression, when you had to work hard just to get a job and
then work harder to keep it. People of my generation, coming from that
experience, developed a work ethic which can inspire young people today.
Seniors in the workforce can be a positive, inspiring force. Moreover, better
health care and healthier lifestyles have extended life spans and led to a
senior population with vigor and vitality.
But when the health
of seniors does decline, this nation does an embarrassingly poor job of
dealing with their needs. Child care has become a booming industry in this
nation. Millions are spent on bigger, brighter, better child care centers --
lively places, filled with happy activities and stimulation. I support all of
that. But when the elderly need daily care, too often they are relegated to
dim, overcrowded centers, places that serve as little more than warehouses
that provide busy work for the hands, and little to fill the heart and
of scam artists focus on the elderly. The offices of Attorneys General
across the nation are besieged with complaints from seniors who were prey for
some con artists and ended up losing their life savings.
stories about CEO's of big, once-profitable companies who are awarded big
bonuses, while the pensions of loyal retirees are squeezed.
When this is how we
treat our seniors, something is wrong with America.
rejoice in their long lives, in their collected experiences, and in their
accomplishments. But in America today, magazines showcase images of young,
vibrant models. Movies and television shows feature youthful actors and
actresses. No one wants to be "old" anymore. It has become a tarnished
today are generally not appreciated as either experienced "elders" or
possessors of special wisdom. Older people are respected only to the extent
that they remain capable of working, exercising, and taking care of
themselves. In American culture, increasing age seems to portend decreasing
value as a human being. It should be just the opposite.
How did the American
culture develop such blatant disregard and disrespect for the elderly? Well,
however we got to such a point, we are definitely here. Seniors need to rise
up and make their voices heard or else they will be forgotten, especially when
it comes to policy formation that directly affects them. . . .