Seniors must play a larger role in government and society
“We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.” Thomas Jefferson
Hopefully we all agree that older Americans are important to our society, but some say the role older Americans play in both government and society must increase if we are to remain a wonderful beacon of democracy and protect Judeo-Christian values. Now, I do not intend for this article to become a political or religious dartboard, but to those who argue our country was not founded on Judeo-Christian values or find the term vague, historically flawed or inflammatory, you mustn’t search long to find numerous historical references to our religious history from liberals and conservatives alike including John Adams who was quoted as saying “I have examined all religions, and the result is that the Bible is the best book in the world,” or Franklin D. Roosevelt when he said “We cannot read the history of our rise and development as a Nation, without reckoning with the place the Bible has occupied in shaping the advances of the Republic. … Its refining and elevating influence is indispensable to our most cherished hopes and ideals.”
This article seeks to discuss some of the ways in which seniors influence our government and society and how their influence can improve an otherwise declining public trust in government. While the actual list may be much longer, I seek to narrow that long list into three distinct topics. In general, seniors are known for (1) voting more often than younger citizens; (2) owning much of the America’s wealth; and (3) providing experience and wisdom to others. I submit that if our seniors are to play a larger role in improving our government and society, it will be through these distinct categories.
1. Voting. The freedom to vote is one of an American citizen’s most important and hard-fought political rights. Originally, our country only allowed white landowners to vote. Slowly, the franchise was expanded to allow white male laborers. Then women gained the federalized right to vote through the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 1920. Finally, in the hardest fought voting rights struggle, Black Americans’ right to vote was recognized in the 15th Amendment to the Constitution through the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Yet for years, seniors have voted in significantly larger numbers than younger Americans regardless of race or gender. Of the 250,056,000 voting aged people in America in 2016, only 55.7% voted in the 2016 presidential election according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Of those eligible to vote over the age of 65, 71% voted. Compare that to eligible voters aged 19-29 where only 46% of them took the time to vote. With this type of voting power, seniors should continue to participate in the voting process and their collective participation should not be ignored.
According to the Pew Research Center, in an August 9, 2018 article entitled An examination of the 2016 electorate, based on validated voters, post-election survey reports following the 2016 election were used to identify the voting preferences of Americans across demographic traits and characteristics. Their research discovered that voters aged 50 and over did not follow younger American voting patterns. Instead, those aged 50 to 64 voted 51% for Trump and 45% for Clinton. Additionally, voters aged 65 and older gave the most support to Trump at a pace of 53% to 44% for Clinton.
Researchers seek to pinpoint the moment when seniors changed their momentum from liberals to conservatives. Jeffrey M. Jones, in his 2014 article U.S. Seniors Have Realigned With the Republican Party wrote that the move from liberal politics to conservative politics by senior Americans occurred primarily between 1992 and 2012. He notes that in 1992, 53% of senior citizens identified as Democrats or Independents leaning Democratic. By 2013, the number of seniors voting Democratic had declined to 40%. Why the change? Perhaps Andrea Louise Campbell, a political science associate professor at MIT nailed it when she proclaimed “Social Security and Medicare are conferred on the basis of age. That creates, for this otherwise disparate group of people, an identity that then becomes a basis for mobilization.” Consistent with Andrea’s assertion is that seniors vote for politicians who protect benefits they contributed to during their working lives. As a result, since 1992, seniors have shifted their support toward those who they perceive to protect Contributory Entitlement Programs over Non-Contributory Programs. Contributory Programs include Social Security, Medicare, and Unemployment Insurance while Non-Contributory Programs include Welfare and Medicaid – entitlement programs paying benefits to those who are not required to make contributions to the programs through taxes.
2. Wealth ownership. Each year, more and more wealth is being attributed to seniors. Christopher Pullam and Isabel V. Sawhill, in their article Six facts about wealth in the United States, wrote that wealth inequality is age-based and has increased over time. They suggest that from 1989 to 2016, the median net worth of American households with a head of household age 65 and older increased 68%. Over the same time, those households with a head of household age 35 or less decreased by 25%.
To play a larger role in government and society, seniors must use their wealth as a resource to exercise power and influence. Senior wealth can be used as donations to political parties, political candidates, fees to enlist lobbyists, and grants to universities, experts and political think tanks who write articles and formulate plans that advocate for specific political parties. Senior wealth is also useful in shaping society and what Americans consume as entertainment through the hiring of public relations firms, the printing of newspapers and magazines, the development of internet sites, or by donating money to public access television and radio, movie productions, colleges, museums, theatres, and art galleries. Wealth, such as equity or stock ownership, can be used to influence large and small corporations alike. This type of influence is becoming more and more important as large American corporations such as Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon change the manner in which Americans live their everyday lives.
3. Providing experience and wisdom to others. Seniors were valued members of our community when they were younger as business owners, attorneys, politicians, educators, doctors, etc. But unfortunately, many seniors lose their sense of self-worth as they retire and grow older. To avoid this horrible waste of untapped talent, seniors must take the initiative to actively look for opportunities to inject themselves into government and society. There are opportunities within various workplaces, houses of worship, schools, civic organizations, and other noteworthy groups where older generations could contribute their valuable time and talents. Seniors should call their local schools, churches, and charitable organizations and volunteer their time and resources.
Seniors should shop, use services, and pay taxes. They should babysit and look after grandchildren. Seniors should do housework, home maintenance and yard work for themselves and others. They should provide transportation or run errands for others, and they should provide care for spouses or friends.
It may sound a bit pretentious, but I universally find that conversations with seniors make me a smarter person. If you are a senior reading this article, please understand how valuable you are to our government and society and take the time to become involved. We need you now more than ever. If you are a younger adult reading this article, recognize seniors for the wonderful resource that they are and if you harness their knowledge and expertise, perhaps our society will change for the better.
Attorney, Todd Miller is a monthly contributor and regularly writes and speaks on various legal topics including estate planning, probate, and elder law. He formed the Law Office of Todd Miller, LLC, 1305 Southwest Blvd., Ste. A, Jefferson City, Missouri in 2006. He was recognized as 2016 Adviser of the Year by GolfInc; Golf Tax Consultant of the Year by Boardroom Magazine three times; and one of the “10 Best” attorneys by the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys. Mr. Miller earned his juris doctorate degree from the University of Missouri School of Law in 1999 and graduated with honors from Lincoln University in 1991. You may find him at www.toddmillerlaw.com (573) 634-2838 or on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.