Tell AARP:
Hands Off Social Security

Sign our letter telling AARP that we will fight any attempts to make cuts to Social Security.

Eric Kingson is a professor of social work at Syracuse University’s School of Social Work and a Senior Research Associate in the Maxwell School’s Center for Policy Research.  He also served as an adviser to President Obama on Social Security for the 2008 campaign and the transition team.

Don’t know about the rest of you 50+ folks, but it’s time for me to burn my AARP card.

Have to start by saying that I like and respect many people who work for and serve as volunteers for AARP.

An article by Laura Meckler in today’s Wall Street Journal reports that “AARP, the powerful lobbying group for older Americans, is dropping its longstanding opposition to cutting Social Security benefits… The shift, which has been vetted by AARP’s board and is now the group’s stance, could have a dramatic effect on the debate surrounding the future of the federal safety net, from pensions to health care, given the group’s immense clout. “If they come around and say they’re ready to do something, it will be like the Arctic icecap cracking,” said former Sen. Alan Simpson, co-chairman of a White House commission on the deficit. (see Link here )

AARP’s position is extremely damaging to the future of Social Security and to the many baby boomers it is working hard to entice into its membership and engage in many of the services it sells and sponsors.

Two reasons… Bad policy Given the economic challenges facing today’s older people, especially those approaching retirement, we should be doing what we can to focus policy discussion on how inadequate the nation’s retirement income system is to deal with the very serious risks (health care costs, lack of LTC protection, job losses, declines in values of housing and occupational pensions, IRAs) confronting those in retirement and those who will soon be. Instead of seeming to position itself as a reasonable inside deal maker that is open to benefit cuts, AARP should be educating about the need to selectively improve the one economic security institution that works quite well (SS).

Bad Strategy for those wanting to protect Social Security. Even if one believes that some ground may have to be ceded at some pointt on Social Security, it is terrible negotiation strategy to signal a willingness to compromise before negotiations are joined. And even if AARP is open to compromise on Social Security, it should be doing absolutely everything it can to make sure that no action is forthcoming this year when Social Security policymaking has been so thoroughly and falsely conflated with deficit politics.

Well, I suppose we should not be too surprised about AARP’s willingness to compromise its constituency. After all, AARP

– Hawks health, auto, motorcycle, home, mobile home, long-term care, dental and life insurance; besides offering discounts and incentives for travel, eyeglass, hearing aid and many other services;

– Sells annuities, mail order prescription drugs and credit cards and has seven no-load mutual funds;

– Has one of the largest mailing lists in the nation and publishes one of the nation’s most widely circulated and lucrative magazines etc. (continued…)

From an organizational maintenance perspective I suppose it is expected that AARP would, first and foremost, function to protect its many institutional and corporate interests. Still, it’s unfortunate to see the “800 pound Gorilla” of aging organizations play such a cautious and stand-offish game. While I would prefer to believe otherwise, it seems to me that, on balancem AARP places much more value on its ability to be an inside player and to maintain its reputation as a deal maker than it does on the needs of older Americans

And so, sadly and with respect for many good people associated with AARP, I have decided to make the supreme sacrifice and “burn my AARP card” and recommend that others consider doing so as well. No more AARP discounts, free Magazines with Katie Couric, Sally Field, Michael Fox, Goldie Hawn, Condoleezza Rice, Robin Williams, Robert Redford, Harrison Ford and others emblazoned each month on its cover– all fine people but hardly typical of the nation’s very diverse population of boomers and elders. Oh well.

Fortunately, there are a couple of organizations out there — the Alliance for Retired Americans and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare — which maintain an advocacy focus more supportive of the protections provided by Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. For those also inclined to “tune out and drop out” of AARP, maybe its time for us through our various networks, blogs and organizational involvements to encourage others to do so as well. And, with AARP being so wavering in its support of elders, hopefully, two outstanding organizations — the Alliance for Retired Americans ( and the National Committee for the Preservation of Social Security and Medicare ( ) — will find opportunity to further build their already substantial memberships and with it to become even stronger advocates for today’s and tomorrow’s older Americans.

Eric Kingson

Eric Kingson