Kleyman Gives Post Mortem Report on 2015 WHCoA

Published in Woonsocket Call on January 17, 2016

In 1958, Rhode Island Congressman John E. Fogarty, a former bricklayer, introduced legislation calling for a White House Conference on Aging (WHCoA) to “promote the dignity, health and economic security of older Americans.” President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the enacted legislation and the first conference was held in 1961, with subsequent conferences in 1971, 1981, 1995, 2005 and 2015.

Looking back, the 1961 WHCoA played a major role in the creation of Medicare and Medicaid, even the Older Americans Act. Ten years later, the conference’s recommendation’s for automatic cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security ultimately became law in 1975. The founding of the Senate Aging Committee came from recommendations at the 1971 WHCoA.

A Year Marked with Anniversaries

The one-day 2015 WHCoA (usually three days) was actually held at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but with a much smaller assembly than in previous years at Washington hotels, such as in 1995, which had 2,221 delegates and 2005, where about 1,100 selected delegates gathered. But his time, new technologies allowed others to tune in. The White House could only accommodate a few hundred dignitaries.

Over 700 watch parties were held in every state and thousands of people tuned in on Monday, July 13, 2015, to watch the day-long proceedings by live webcast. Over 9,000 people participated, too, through social media on Twitter and Facebook.

But, Paul Kleyman, editor of the Generations Beat Online (GBONews.org), a E-Newsletter for age beat journalist, noted in the Jan. 17, 2016 issue, that this year’s aging conference had no delegate selection process like previous ones. “As we’ve noted previously, though, more than one expert expressed disappointment that the Obama Administration made little effort to muster bipartisan support among GOP congressional members who might well have wanted some representation on the issue going into the 2016 election season. Historically, governors and members of Congress got to pick local constituents in fields from retirement finance to health services with a prestigious delegate appointment to the conference,” says the seasoned journalist who served as a delegate at the 1995 WHCoA.

A Call for an Expansion of Social Security

The WHCoA’s scheduled date in 2015 fell in the year where advocates in aging celebrated the 50th anniversary of Medicare, Medicaid and the Older Americans Act as well as the 80th anniversary of Social Security. Kleyman notes that the newly released 34 page WHCoA report (with 49 pages of appendices) says, “The 2015 White House Conference on Aging (WHCOA) provided an opportunity to recognize the importance of these key programs as well as to look ahead to the next decade.”

President Obama was sent a letter with 74 Congressional cosigners reminding him that over half of today’s older workers are not expected to be able to have sufficient resources upon their retirement to maintain their current standard of living. Although they called for an expansion of Social Security, Kleyman says discussion was “barely audible” at the aging conference.

In addressing the WHCoA attendees, Obama called for “keeping Social Security strong, protecting its future solvency,” pledging to fight “privatization of the program. Kleyman observed that proposed new rules to help workers increase their retirement “stopped short of supporting stronger benefits that they need.”

It’s a Mixed Bag

But, Kleyman says that aging advocates consider the WHCoA’s recommendations a mixed bag. In his E-newsletter article, he references a Jan. 6, 2015 blog penned by Kevin Prindiville who serves as executive director of Justice in Aging. “The report details piecemeal public actions and private initiatives, but ignores the opportunity to lay out an ambitious policy proposal to address pressing systemic challenges,” he says.

Kleyman also zeros in on Prindiville’s observations as to why this year’s WHCoA was of the scaled down. He observed, “To those who followed the WHCOA closely, this was not a surprise. Congress’ failure to reauthorize the Older Americans Act, and the lack of appropriate funding for the conference, meant WHCOA organizers had to produce a conference without a budget. With little infrastructure and support, the White House did not propose any new big, bold ideas to prepare for a population that is literally booming.”

Kleyman says that attendees were pleased to see a recommendation calling for improving the quality and safety requirements in the nation’s 15,000 long-term care facilities and a proposal to allow low-income and frail home bound elders and people with disabilities to use food stamps for meals on wheels.

Meanwhile, attendees were told at this event that physicians would be paid starting in 2016 to counsel patients about their end-of-life care, adds Kleyman, noting that recommendations did not address the nation’s increasing diversity.  Yet, there was no discussion on hospice and palliative care, affordable senior housing issues, and little discussion of elder abuse, the need for adequate transportation and long-term care, he says.

See You in 2025

According to the Census Bureau, in 2050, the 65-and-older population will be 83.7 million, almost double of what it was in 2012. The 2015 WHCoA conference has taken place with a skyrocketing older population, referred to as the “Graying of America.” Can this year’s conference provide policy makers with a road map to shape the delivery of services for years to come? As Kleyman says, probably not. “So it goes, at least until 2025,” he says.



AARP No Longer Your Grandmother’s Membership Organization

Published in Pawtucket Times, March 15, 2013

             With the printing of a full-page four-colored ad in the February 25, 2002 issue of Newsweek magazine,  AARP, the nation’s largest aging advocacy group, moved to reinvent its membership image by rolling out an ad campaign to lure the nation’s aging baby boomers into its rank and file. At that time the public viewed an AARP member as being in their sixties gliding into the twilight of their  retirement years.  One simple ad consisting of a picture of a shirtless, lean, aging baby boomer carrying his mud-caked mountain bike, worked effectively to change this misperception.   AARP members were not moving into their twilight years but still young, vibrant, and even active. 

             “Be Yourself,” blared the ad’s tag line, identifying the 50ish male with gray hair in the ad: “Peter Carlstrom, 51, cyclist, canoeist, an AARP Member.”

             In 2002, with the kickoff of this media campaign, the nation’s largest aging group, representing 35 million members in that year, geared up efforts to recruit the growing number of the nation’s baby boomer generation – born between 1946 to 1964 – into its membership ranks.

             Baby boomers don’t make compromises, said AARP’s membership recruitment ad over a decade ago – “They make choices.”  Furthermore, the ad stated that AARP was there to help with fitness programs, and to provide information on making healthy choices in a myriad of ways, including eating right and staying fit.        

“Real Possibilities” Ad Campaign Kicks Off

             Today, AARP continues to attack the misperception associated with its brand and with aging stereotypes, by launching another national advertising campaign.  According to the Washington, DC-based group, “Real Possibilities” aims to revitalize and repositioning AARP as a membership organization that is relevant that can deliver messages of strength and empowerment. “Real Possibilities” will now serve as the organization’s new tagline and will be implemented into the existing AARP logo.

             AARP’s new public relations campaign, created by GREY, seeks to show not only what the face of 50+ looks like today, but more importantly, the new mindset of people entering or already in this life stage.  It will run in TV and digital media through October 2013. 

             AARP is putting one-third of its “Real Possibilities” media buy towards social and digital media and the ads will appear on more lifestyle outlets as opposed to the news-focused outlets they’ve primarily appeared on in the past.  Ads will drive consumers to a newly created landing page http://www.aarp.org/possibilities, where they will be able to access content that is most relevant to the 50+ audience looking to achieve their “real possibilities.”

             “People are looking for a trusted ally to help them turn their goals and dreams into real possibilities, and that’s where AARP can help them and their families,” said A. Barry Rand, CEO, AARP. “This is an opportunity to reintroduce AARP to the public and show the value that we provide to the 50+ audience. We think this campaign effectively demonstrates how AARP is relevant to them.”

             AARP is shifting the focal point of the conversation from aging and advice, to a deeper level of personal connection and empowerment. People age 50+ don’t want to be defined by age, and they don’t want to live in fear that their possibilities become more limited as they get older.

             “Possibilities are critical to this audience and millions of people in their 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond are living in a new life stage—the age of possibility,” said Emilio Pardo, Executive Vice President and Chief Brand Officer, AARP. “We want to show how their life experiences have tremendous value and that possibilities should not be less, they should be ageless.”

 Reintroducing AARP to a Younger Crowd

             While some may see AARP’s new marketing effort as a way to expand its membership base to younger members, for AARP Rhode Island’s John Martin, its very practical to bring aging baby boomers in early.         

                “As AARP evolved it became evident that most things about ‘retirement’ require attention well before the day people retire, Martin, citing his favorite example, retirement security.

             “How can we help members plan for a secure retirement if we wait until retirement to reach out and offer resources and assistance?  And then there is the more current qustion: If, say, at 52 you are working full time but feeling the weight of college tuition, rising taxes and you’ve seen the equity in your home plummet, you should not wait until retirement age to make your voice heard on Medicare and Social Security.  Most 50-year-old Americans now recognize they have a vital stake in the sustainability of these programs.”

             According to Martin, retiring in dignity also depends on one’s health. “It’s awfully hard to turn things around when you are 65, so AARP needs to connect with people earlier to provide health and fitness resources that might make life at 70 or 80 more enjoyable, he says.

              “Another outcome of reaching those ages in better health is that people have created at least a better chance of saving on healthcare costs.”  He asks, “How can AARP promote the benefits of staying active and mobile if we have not been encouraging better diet, exercise and preventative care as retirement approaches?”

             Martin says people welcome such notions as “60 is the new 50.” He points out that media images of the serene couple relaxing in easy chairs has been replaced by CNN stories about people skydiving to celebrate their 70th birthday or 80-year-old competitive swim champions.  “We Boomers live for the hope that we can reach retirement in better physical and mental shape than our parents. A generation ago, society was telling people to retire, collect Social Security and act their age – to accept the gold watch at 62 or 65 and ride off quietly into the sunset. No more,” he says.

 Great AARP Websites

            AARP is working hard to be the best resource, online, in-person and in communities to help aging baby boomers and those older to discover new possibilities, notes Martin. As part of the “Real Possibilities” initiative, AARP offers a way to reimagine your life (lifereimagined.aarp.org).  This website offers people over age 50 with an opportunity to design his or her own reimagined life.

            Also AARP recently launched a dating service. And why not?, asks Martin. “Happiness and romance is not reserved for those couples in the beer commercials. Think about online dating services of the past decade or two. Did many seem at all tailored to or comfortable for anyone over 50?  The AARP brand and all that we stand for makes taking a chance a lot more comfortable.”

            With the graying of America, AARP has redefined its mission and repacked itself twice in the past 13 years. The redirected membership organization, expanding its generational reach, now strives to make a person’s journey throughout their entire lifespan a little easier, a bit better and brighter.

            Now isn’t that worth the cost of an AARP membership.  For more information about AARP membership and benefits, log on to www.aarp.org/join or call AARP Rhode at 401-248-2663 and request a membership application. AARP’s Web site is in Spanish, too, at www.aarp.org/espanol

            Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer covering aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.



The Best Of…AARP Repackages Itself for a Younger Crowd

Published May 9, 2008, All Pawtucket All The Times

         In 1999, the American Association of Retired Person’s changed its moniker to AARP, reflecting its new efforts to bring aging baby boomers into its rank and file.

         Four years later, AARP made a decision to codify its name change in the content of its official publications. No longer in its official membership publications would it recognize a generation gap between the Pepsi generation and their elderly parents.  In 2003, AARP, America’s most recognized aging advocacy group, launched AARP, The Magazine.  The organization was betting that the merger of two separate publications  (My Generation for people 50-59 and Modern Maturity for those age 60 and over) would “appeal to octogenarians, their fifty-something off-spring and anyone in between.”

         In explaining the merger of publications, Hugh Delehanty, editor in chief of AARP The Magazine, in the inaugural March/April 2003 issue, stated:  “We concluded that what unites the generations is much more powerful than what separates us.”

        Targeting the baby boomer generation for AARP membership was a sound decision because of the nation’s demographic shift, noted C. Brit Beemer, chairman ofAmerica’s Research Group.  “With increased longevity it was not uncommon for aging baby boomers and their children to both become retirees at the same time,” the marketing guru said in a released AARP statement announcing AARP’s one magazine for two generations.  “As a result the interests of baby boomers and their parents will naturally converge around health, financial stability and travel, even if the way they handle those issues is very different.”

        Now, five years later, AARP now recognized as the world’s largest membership organization for those age 50. announces the relaunch of its Web site, AARP.org. The new Web site targets boomers with social networking opportunities, expert content and entertainment tailored to their unique needs. One of the key components of the newly revamped site is the expansion of AARP Bulletin’s print publication into a daily news site, AARP Bulletin Today, the only online news source catering specifically to the age 50 plus demographic.

       AARP.org has been reinvented as the on line destination for those who want to stay connected, informed and engaged,” said AARP CEO Bill Novelli in a statement announcing the group’s newly designed web site. “AARP.org is designed to meet the needs of a generation that is increasingly online. There are nearly 80 million boomers in America. This influential generation comprises about one third of on line users – users who may feel out of place on networking sites aimed at their children and grandchildren, but who are looking to connect with family and friends online,” Novelli says.

        AARP officials hope that AARP Bulletin Today will become the go-to news source for age 50 and over Americans and offers daily news and exclusive features brought to life with multimedia and interactivity to engage readers in a variety of ways. Some new, engaging, and useful features on include columns such as Scam Alert, Save a Buck, Outrage of the Week, Ask the Experts, What I Really Know, Health Discoveries, Myth Busters, Ask Ms. Medicare, Campaign Watch, and Data bank USA. The new site offers more original content and news reporting from the same team that has delivered trusted, credible, and actionable news and information through the AARP Bulletin. The site will also deliver targeted news feeds for breaking news specifically on issues of interest for those age 50 and over, from hundreds of top news sources.

         Social networking sites have become increasingly popular, but are mainly targeted to the twenty something crowd.   Because of this, AARP is launching a new on line social network that addresses the needs of people age 50 and over, on its official Web Site.

          Kathleen Connell, State Director, for AARP Rhode Island, says, “like any successful Fortune 500 Company, AARP must continue to adapt to current society.”  The relaunching of AARP’s is one strategy to do this, she says.

           “We are pleased that AARP launched its updated website (AARP.org) to better serve the boomer population which is currently the largest cohort of AARP using the internet.”  However, she added that the use of internet services is now increasing for older seniors at a rapid pace.

            Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, medical and health care issues.  This article was published in the May 9, 2008 issue of All Pawtucket All The Time. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.