Work to do
Without hard-fought and still fragile gains, old age would hardly be Golden
By Marvin Schachter 04/12/2012
April 13, proclaimed by Mayor Bill Bogaard as Older Adults Day in Pasadena, will be celebrated by many hundreds of our older residents at the city’s unique and extraordinary 2012 Conference on Aging, which brings to mind the somewhat schizophrenic nature of becoming an “older adult.” [Note: “older adult” is the currently fashionable term for folks who used to be called “seniors.”]
On one hand, the time-worn phrase “seniority is not for cowards” represents some unavoidable facts of life as we grow older. We wear glasses and use hearing aids, we establish intimate relations with walkers and wheelchairs, and driving license examiners look upon us with suspicion. Worst of all, we find familiar names when we read the obituary notices — which we make sure to read every day.
On the other hand, the 2012 Conference on Aging represents the wonderful reality that we are living longer. Conservative projections tell us that 20 years from now, one out every five Americans will be 65 or older. Most of us are engaged and active; whether we are the already aged, including people in their 80s and 90s, or the oncoming Baby Boomers, we are all interested and involved in meeting the challenges of our advancing years.
Note some of the optimistic topics on our conference agenda:
• Act Three: A New Bloom
• Rethinking Life and Leisure in Retirement
• Romance After 50
• Tai Chi, Zumba Gold, Chair Aerobics
• Make Your Voices Heard on Medicare
• Disaster Preparedness
• Going Green With Nutrition
Not every older person is involved or engaged, but there is a reason, I suggest, why so many are and, most importantly, can be.
The fact is that over the past 75 years or so, ever since the birth of Social Security in the 1930s, we have built a foundation for a society in which there is a safety net for older Americans, who have the possibility of living a meaningful, useful, happy old age.
As a relic of the 1930s, I can testify to the enormous difference not only in longevity, but in the quality of life for the elderly today and for those in pre-Social Security, pre-Medicare days.
It is a far from perfect system, and for far too many, it is shamefully inadequate. At every conference I have attended, from the last White House Conference on Aging to this week’s meeting of the Los Angeles County Commission for Older Adults, we discussed the need for low-income housing, care for the disabled and the need for affordable and available transportation.
What we have already achieved did not come about easily. Thirty years of campaigning and agitation were needed to add medical care to the senior safety net, and another 30 years was spent advocating for a prescription drug program.
But at least we have made a beginning. In some manner, our 2012 Pasadena conference is a celebration of that beginning.
In this election year, however, many of us wonder if that beginning will be built upon. Will we perfect the programs that exist? Will weaknesses be cured and coverage extended to the neediest? What will be the fate of the Affordable Care Act, which has improved and protected Medicare and has added programs for our children and grandchildren?
In a time of federal and state budget crisis, programs for the aging have joined education as particular targets of budget cuts. The proposed federal budget adopted by the US House of Representatives last week would decimate Medicare, Medicaid, nutrition programs, senior housing — all key Older American Act support systems for local and state programs and senior centers.
Here in California, budget cuts have deprived especially vulnerable older and disabled recipients of essential support.
To paraphrase a speech I heard by Dolores Huerta, a co-leader of California farm workers who worked alongside Cesar Chavez: “This country is rich enough. Will it be wise enough, just enough, to help all Americans to live secure, healthy, decent lives?”
Isn’t that a goal worth working for?
TV personality Stephanie Edwards is the keynote speaker at the Conference on Aging and Educational Fair, First Church of the Nazarene, 3700 E. Sierra Madre Blvd., Pasadena, from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Friday. The conference features free wellness screenings and tai chi, chair aerobics and Zumba dance sessions. Also featured are workshops on health and fitness, finance management, Social Security, health care reform, dating after 50 and green cooking. Admission is free. For more information, call (877) 926-8300 or visit aarp.cvent.com.
Marvin Schachter, a member of the Los Angeles County Commission for Older Adults, is also a member of the AARP California Executive Council and the Pasadena Conference on Aging Planning Committee. The opinions expressed in this article are his own.