Advocacy Groups & Movements for Older Adults

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  • 0:02 The Need for Advocacy
  • 0:55 Early Movements
  • 2:04 Major Organizations
  • 6:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine has an M.A. in American Studies. She is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

In this lesson, you will learn how older adults have gained more political power through advocacy groups over time. You will explore how the combined efforts of these movements have affected public policy.

The Need for Advocacy

68 year old Justine is infuriated. Her new prescription is going to cost a significant amount out of her own pocket, and she can't believe the price tag. Struggling to pay her bills, she starts to take a greater interest in the news on Medicare and other programs for those in her age group. She decides it's time to contact an organization that can help her better understand the political issues affecting seniors.

This lesson highlights the major advocacy groups and movements for older adults in the United States and their historical influence. Advocacy involves activities designed to influence public policy and educate the public about these issues. A portion of an organization's activities, within legal limitations, may also include lobbying, or a type of advocacy involving contact with legislators about an issue of concern.

Early Moments

Before the program of Social Security existed, older adults were already becoming more interested in how they could mobilize together to advocate for their interests. Social movements such as Upton Sinclair's End Poverty in California (EPIC) and the Townsend Plan were appealing because they offered the promise of a pension, money coming in even after a person no longer worked. Even after Social Security was enacted in 1935, much effort was needed to improve the circumstances of seniors, especially those with limited incomes.

By mid-century, the White House held its first National Conference on Aging. Additional legislation such as Medicare and the Older Americans Act was developed a decade later. At this point, nonprofit advocacy groups for older adults were emerging in greater force and were serving the important role of keeping the issues of seniors on everyone's minds during debates on public policy. While Justine had previously heard snippets of the debates about high medical costs on the news, now that the issues affect her personally, she wants to become more involved and to educate herself further.

Major Organizations

One of the oldest of the major advocacy groups still in existence today, the National Committee on Aging, was founded in 1950, with a name change 10 years later to make it the National Council on Aging (NCOA). This group raises awareness about issues, particularly for those most in need. A first step for Justine might be to participate in an educational event offered by the National Council on Aging to learn more about the reasons and solutions behind high prescription costs. This organization has a legacy of influencing political milestones in favor of seniors and its top priority concerns are reflected in the White House Conferences on Aging that occur each decade.

Another option for Justine to consider is to become a member of AARP. Established in 1958 as a retired teachers association, AARP now has the largest membership among advocacy groups for older adults today. Previously known as the American Association of Retired Persons, AARP now serves those 50 and over through a variety of different programs, educational tools, and publications aimed to improve the quality of life of its members and the older population as a whole. At times, AARP has found itself under fire in the world of politics due to its commercial connections with the insurance industry. Some question how this affects the organization's stance on public policy issues. On the flip side, it has also been credited for providing older adults with significant political power. Justine may choose to access the tools of this established group to increase her influence as a concerned individual.

Labor unions have long been involved in securing benefits for their retired members, and the National Council of Senior Citizens was established as an advocacy group representing these interests. Medicare had not yet been passed, and this group was eager to see medical benefits for seniors improved. By the turn of the century, this group changed its name to the Alliance for Retired Americans (ARA) and serves both retired trade union and non-union members through advocating for political and social agendas that they believe support the older population and all people in society. Through ARA, Justine could seek out the congressional voting record of the politicians who represent her area to make a decision about whether to vote for them in the future. She could participate in a petition, a rally or other tactics to lobby for her point of view.

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