New AARP Study Takes a Close Look at America’s Grandparents

AARP’s newest research study, highlighting the latest trends, gives us a peek into the world of grandparenting, a role that millions of Americans now take on in their later years. This number has steadily grown, from 56 million in 2001 to a whopping 70 million today.

The youngest grandparent is about 38 years old, with 50 being the average age of becoming a first-time grandparent, notes Brittne Nelson-Kakulla, AARP Research’s Senior Research. For those with children, by age 65, 96 percent of Americans are grandparents, she says.

“Today’s grandparents are an economic force that cannot be ignored,” said Alison Bryant, senior vice president of research, AARP, in an April 8 statement with the release of this 40-page report. “They are living longer, working longer, shattering stereotypes and supporting their grandchildren in a variety of ways, including financially and culturally. Nearly all grandparents are providing some sort of financial support, helping to ease the costs of raising kids,” notes Bryant.

Grandparents Pump Billion’s into Nation’s Economy

According to AARP’s study, 70 million grandparents can have a major impact on the nation’s economy. Grandparents spend money on their grandchildren, an average of $2,562 annually, this equaling approximately $179 billion dollars per year. Those dollars are spent supporting their grandchildren in a variety of ways, from helping to pay day-to-day expenses (meals, groceries, etc.) allowances, vacations, and school/college tuition costs.

The study found that grandparents have, on average, four to five grandchildren, down from six to seven in 2011. The number of grandparents in the workforce has increased in the past seven years, with 40 percent of grandparents currently employed up from 24 percent in 2011.

Grandparents enjoy the positive aspects of grandparenting such as supporting dreams and sharing roots, history and culture, and experiences, says the AARP study, but they face financial challenges, too. Thirteen percent of grandparent’s struggle with the financial expectations of being a grandparent, including the cost of education, traveling to see the grandchildren.

Seven percent of grandparents have taken on debt to help their grandchildren pay for college and one in four of those grandparents have even cosigned private student loans for their grandchildren and/or incurred credit card debt that has not yet been paid back in full.

Over the decades, the role of grandparenting has remained consistent, observes the AARP study. Grandchildren continue to refer to grandparents as “grandma” or “grandpa” (70 percent to 60 percent respectively). But, one in twenty of the grandparent respondents prefer to be called by their first name.

Serving as a Source of Wisdom

Eighty one percent of the grandparent respondents say they play a key role in their grandchildren’s life. Over half say that they serve as a “moral compass” to the grandchildren on variety of issues ranging from education, morals to values. But they say that discussing topics on sexuality and politics are way “out of their comfort zone.”

Grandparents also see the importance of teaching gender equality and rising the be strong, independent woman, too, says the AARP study.

Thirty four percent of the grandparents say they have grandchildren of mixed or difference races or ethnicities. Nearly all of the respondents believe it is important that these grandchildren know about the heritage they share. Seven in ten make an effort to help their grandchildren learn about the heritage they do not share, says Nelson-Kakulla.

Sixty eight percent say that distance is the biggest obstacle that keeps them from getting enough one-on-one time with their grandchildren. Fifty two percent of the survey respondents have at least one grandchild who lives or 200 miles away, while 29 percent live over 50 miles from the closest grandchild, up from 19 percent in 2011. Like distance, busy full-or part-time work schedules keep grandparents as well as schedules of their children and grandchildren keep them from connecting.

Grandparents are turning away from making phone calls to maintain contact with their grandchildren, turning to new technologies like email, Facebook, Video Chat and Texting to bridge the mileage gap. Forty seven percent “like” the idea of group texting messages to chat with their grandchildren and 67 percent “like” the idea of using online video chatting to keep in touch.

Finally, 89 percent of the grandparent respondents say their relationship with their grandchildren is good for their well-being and 67 percent believe this role makes them more sociable. Sixty six percent say having grandchildren makes them more active, too.

AARP’s 21-minute online survey of 2,654 grandparents ages 38 and was conducted between August 20 and September 4, 2018.by Hotspex, Inc.

For a copy of AARP’s 2018 Grandparents Today National Survey, contact Brittne Nelson- Kakulla, Senior Research Advisor, AARP Research, at bkakulla@aarp.org.

AARP’s President Romasco Great Rhode Island Adventure

Published in Pawtucket Times, August 23, 2013

AARP’s top volunteer, President Robert G. Romasco, sees a key role for AARP in supporting the nation’s families, which is why he made a quick one-day trip to the Ocean State last week to help kick off the Back to School Celebration of RI, visiting three of the eleven sites throughout the state. Romasco came to endorse AARP Rhode Island’s strong involvement with this ongoing learning initiative. The state affiliate is a long-time Celebration Sponsor and Deborah Miller, Associate Director of Community Outreach, sits on the School Celebration’s Board of Directors.

Programs like Back to School Celebration of RI are important for AARP to strongly support, says Romasco, because of the changing demographics of its membership. Once viewed as an organization representing those in their mid-sixties and older, now aging baby boomers 50 plus make up one of the largest membership constituencies, over 100 million Americans.

AARP does not just serve the needs of these members, but their families as well, their elder parents, adult children and even grandchildren. AARP’s mission statement spotlights its focus, “issues that matter most to families such as healthcare, employment and income security, retirement planning, affordable utilities and protection from financial abuse.”

Years ago, a pair of shoes was seen as a status symbol for young students returning to school. Today it’s a backpack, says Romasco, who says that this annual community initiative gets children excited about going back to school after the long summer recess. “It’s also about helping families to prepare their children to have a successful school year,” he says.

The Back to School Celebration, in its ninth year, began with a modest effort to support children in struggling families. It all started with 300 backpacks. It has grown dramatically to 14,000 backpacks distributed this year, with local companies donating the school supplies for the initiative. Any parent will tell you that school supply costs add up, especially in large families. This assistance keeps back-to-school costs from sinking a tight family budget every fall.

A Jam Packed Schedule

On Saturday, August 17, after opening ceremonies at the William D’Abate School in Providence, Romasco traveled to the West End Community Center in the city to pass out backpacks, working side by side with AARP State Director Kathleen Connell and Phil Zarlengo of Jamestown, a past chairman of the AARP national board. From there, Romasco drove to Newport to observe backpack distribution at the East Bay Community
Action Program. While there, he toured the new facility, which provides community-based health services utilizing an innovative patient-centered approach to medical care.

Said Romasco at the opening ceremonies, “When people want to see how America can work, I say, ‘Let them come to Rhode Island … and see how a community can work together for the benefit of all families and the children who are our future.’”

Romasco concluded his visit with a luncheon in Newport with city officials and community leaders that included a presentation by Newport Director of Public Services William Riccio, who discussed the Broadway Streetscape redesign. AARP Rhode Island, as part of its statewide “complete streets” advocacy (as reported in my May 19, 2012 Commentary), supported the project, which will make Broadway more pedestrian and bike friendly while adding features embraced by retailers and business on the thoroughfare.

Breakfast at the Diner

Around 8:00 a.m., at Pawtucket’s historic Modern Diner on East Avenue, Romasco, 65, sat down with this columnist to explain the issues on the policy radar screen of the nation’s largest advocacy group.

We don’t oftentimes see powerful national leaders who oversee major aging organizations come to the Ocean State. But we did last week. As AARP President, Romasco’s 22-member volunteer Board of Directors approves all policies, programs, activities, and services and oversees a $1.5 billion operational budget for the Association’s 37 million members. The huge nonprofit, nonpartisan organization employs 2,400 employees, many based in every state and in the nation’s territories.

While many of AARP’s volunteer Board Members come up thru the rank and file in local State Chapters, this was not the case with Romasco. In 2005, at age 57, an old friend, who met him 35 years earlier when he consulted for AARP, urged him to respond to an open call for consideration for the top AARP leadership position. When the dust settled he was among “seven lucky individuals” chosen from a pool of 400 applicants.

According to Romasco, AARP brings in seven new board members every two years. “We look at a person’s diversity, not just in ethnicity and where a person lives, but what skills and points of views they bring,” he says, stressing that this creates a “good mix” on the group.

Many would consider Romasco’s appointment a very good choice. The retired businessman is a graduate from Harvard Business School with a Master of Business Administration, who previously received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Brandeis University.
During his 35 year working career, Romasco has held senior level positions at a number of prestigious national companies, including QVC, Inc., CIGNA, Inc. and J.C. Penny. Over the years at these companies, he has honed his skills in marketing, branding and organizational change. However, during his long career he did take a one-year sabbatical from his full-time job. “I actually got to see my kids go to school. I got to see them come home from the bus. ”

His presidency at the helm of AARP is very time consuming, “a full-time activity,” he quips. When responding to people who ask him if he is retired, Romasco nods, stating “I just don’t get paid anymore.”

Before becoming President, Romasco served as AARP board secretary/treasurer, and chaired the Audit and Finance Committee. He is a former member of the Board of Directors, of AARP’s Andrus Foundation.

Romasco personally gets it, that receiving a Social Security check can often times mean the difference between eating or not eating. With his mother bringing home a meager wage earned as a part-time seamstress, her survivor benefit check literally put food on the table for the young child and his sister.

His speaking schedule is jam packed, as he travels around the nation sharing his personal experiences as to the importance of Social Security impact on a family’s budget. These visits are used to get this message out: “Social Security is the only lifetime, inflation-protected guaranteed source of retirement income that most Americans will have.”

As the Congressional debate heats on Capitol Hill, as to modifying Social Security’s existing cost of living formula thru a chained CPI, Romasco warns that it’s not a minor tweak but one that can substantially reduce the amount of a retiree, a disabled person or veteran’s benefit check. According to AARP calculations, a 65 year old retiree would lose $662 over five years of retirement. After 20 years of Social Security, the benefit cut would amount to $9,139.

A chained CPI is just “bad policy, a bad idea” says, Romasco, one of the nation’s most visible aging advocates. “It is an attempt by Congress to balance the federal deficit on the back of the nation’s seniors,” he charges.

During my breakfast, Romasco tells me that AARP has unleashed one of its largest outreach efforts in its history. Its “You’ve Earned a Say,” initiative educates Americans about the policy debates on Social Security and provides them an opportunity to voice their views and concerns on the ongoing retirement policy debates in Congress. Rhode Island AARP oversees this initiative in the Ocean State (as detailed in my Commentary published Oct. 26, 2012),

Just last week, he says that petitions from 1.5 million people who voiced their opposition to the chained CPI calculations for annual COLA adjustments on 10,000 pages in 15 large boxes were carried to the House Ways and Means Committee.

Romasco says that AARP, through its successful efforts to collect these petitions from 4,000 town meetings held nationally, has enabled citizens to have an opportunity to express their opinions to their elected officials.

He smiles, noting that Congress has certainly heard from the nation’s aging baby boomer and seniors. “Congress certainly cannot ignore us with those delivered petitions.”

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

Paula Deen and Forgiveness

Published in the Pawtucket Times, June 28, 2013

This week nobody could escape the 24 hour news cycle reporting how American Celebrity Chef, Paula Deen, a product of her Southern upbringing, admitted that she had spoken a racially charged “N-word” decades ago. Once the dust settles, the nation will get to see if one of Savannah, Georgia’s most prominent residents can rehabilitate herself. Will she personally and professionally survive the swift backlash of the racial slur-controversy, or will the pubic respond to her tearful pleas for forgiveness and give her one last chance for redemption?

The Ugly “N-Word”

Deen now joins actors Mil Gibson, Charlie Sheen, Michael Richards (a.k.a., Kramer), reality TV stars, Dog the Bounty Hunter and hotel heiress Paris Hilton, along with musicians John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Jennifer Lopez, John Mayers, Eminem, even radio show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger who all stirred up the public’s wrath by uttering the “N-word.”

The 66-year-old former Food Network host, restaurateur, writer of cook books, actress and Emmy Award winning television personality, now suddenly finds her career unraveling, like many who have used the racially charged “N-word,” one of the most offensive words in the English language, a word that invokes ugly racial stereotypes.

The media reporting details of a May 17 deposition, resulting from a $1.2 million lawsuit filed by a former restaurant manager at the Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House, a Savannah, Georgia-based restaurant owned by Deen and her brother, created a public firestorm over her use of a very ugly word. Deen stated that she had used the “N-word” at times, decades ago, even detailing her plans to dress waiters at a 2007 wedding as slaves, “wearing long sleeve white shirts, black shorts and black bow ties.”

The Food Network quickly responded to news reports about announcing the dropping of her show, “Paula’s Home Cooking,” then announcing Deen’s contract would not be renewed next month. Later the Smithfield Foods, Inc., retail giant Wal-Mart, and Caesars Entertainment followed suit, severing ties with Paula Deen Entertainment.

Many of her business partners and sponsors, including Shopping Network CVC, which sells a line of her cookware, and Random House, publisher of her cook books, are monitoring the situation closely to determine their actions.

Trying to take control of an issue spiraling out of control, a teary Deen created two YouTube apology videos to offer her mea culpa for using racial slurs last week, also making a 13-minute appearance on Today with Matt Lauer on June 16 to address this controversy.

Public relations experts give mixed reviews as to how effective she was in reducing the negative impact on her brand and celebrity image using racial slurs. Deen’s salvation may well rest on the public’s short attention span and their desire to forgive, say the experts.

Circling the Wagons

Although Deen can not shake the financial impact of being politically incorrect, her fans are rallying behind her.

This week, thousands of irate Deen’s fans are rallying to support her by leaving their comments on the Food Network’s Face book page, to support the besieged celebrity chef, saying that the network moved too fast to oust her, even overreacting. Many viewed her sacking as political correctness run amuck, calling for her to be given a pass for the use of the “N-word.”

Just two days ago, a newly created “We Support Paula Deen” Face book page already has 418,452 Likes, with many loyal fan comments urging Deen’s sponsors to give her a second chance. Many noted that people make mistakes in life and who hasn’t told an inappropriate or off-color joke or used inappropriate words in private or with family.

Also, according to The Associated Press, civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson has agreed to help Deen try to make amends for her past use of the “N-word,” saying she shouldn’t become a “sacrificial lamb” over the issue of racial intolerance. Dean had called him to seek his guidance as to how to recover, noted the news wire.

Bravo for Rev. Jackson, who says in this press report that if Deen is willing to acknowledge mistakes and make changes, “she should be reclaimed rather than destroyed.”

The Baptist minister who was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988 and served as a shadow U.S. Senator for the District of Columbia from 1991 to 1997 says he’s more troubled by racial disparities in jobs, lending, health care, business opportunities and the criminal justice system.

Anne Rice, author of gothic fiction and Christian literature and erotic, best known for her popular and influential series of novels The Vampire Chronicles, joins Rev. Jackson in defending Deen.

On her Face Book Page, Rice says what is happening to Deen is “unjust,” comparing it to a “High Tech Execution,” a witch hunt and public burning that is a “horrible thing to witness.”

Furthermore, best-selling author, Rice, who has written 33 books, all novels except one personal memoir, quips, “It is all too easy to ‘hate’ a witch and join in the “fun” of a public execution, and to feel smug and superior and righteous for doing it. And that is what we are seeing now with Paula Deen. Pure ugliness. This is the very opposite of respect for the dignity of all persons.”

Finally, liberal Bill Maher even goes to bat for Deen on Real Time with Bill Maher in a recent episode on HBO.

The Power of Forgiveness

For those, like Deen, who have made terrible mistakes through their misjudgments and use of inappropriate slur words (like the “N-word”) many rarely survive the backlash of political correctness, even when they plead for forgiveness, as their lives are destroyed.

Deen’s racial controversy can positively impact our society by allowing more dialogue about and to confront both personal and institutional racism. Rather then allowing a single mistake to ruin a person’s life, give the individual an opportunity to take responsibility and learn from their inappropriate behavior and actions. Give them a second chance. What a great celebrity spokesperson Deen could become to bring the races together.

It is so important for individuals to learn to forgive their family and friends who have hurt or disappointed them. So, too must a society do this. Former South African President Nelson Mandela is an international role model as to how forgiveness can become the perfect way to way to heal the nation’s racist tendencies. At press time, the former President remains in critical condition in a hospital in Pretoria, South Africa, kept on life support, where he is being treated for a lung infection.

Writer Simon Kent, in a June 10, 2013 post on the Toronto Sun’s web site, states that the frail 94-year-old leader’s legacy to the world is teaching us “forgiveness.”

When Mandela’s National African party won the election that would end apartheid in South Africa, he forgave his white political foes, says Kent, noting that the power of forgiveness kept the black majority ruling party from seeking revenge.

Kent said: “He didn’t hate the political system that had barred him from voting.

Mandela didn’t hate the rest of the world that for years had turned its back on non-white South Africans.”

Mandela just “offered mercy both to his tormentors and his foes and urged fellow South Africans to do the same” added Kent. Yes, forgiveness.

According to Kent, at his 1994 inauguration, Prisoner 46664 — Nelson Mandela — had kept a seat set aside for a very special guest he wanted to witness his swearing-in as President, the highest office in the land. This person, one of his former jailers from Robben Island, where he was held for 18 years of hard labor, he said.

If Mandela can easily forgive his former jailor and a white society that kept his black brothers and sisters enslaved for centuries, why can’t we just forgive Paula Deen, for saying the “N-word” decades ago. Simply put, it just seems like the right thing to do.

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