Social Policy & Aging

Social Policy & Aging 

Social Policies Benefiting Seniors Since 1900

Beginning early in the last century social policies regarding seniors concentrated on their economic situation. This resulted in a burgeoning of organizations and government programs whose sole purpose was to pull seniors out of poverty, advocate for them, and assist in passing a number of government programs to protect them.

The sidebar on the facing page provides some of the highlights of the social policy and aging movement from the turn of the century to 1965. These events reflect a momentum in which programs, services, and advocacy for the elderly became dominant forces in American life.

Highlights of the social policy and aging movement from the turn of the century to 1965 - the landmark year in which Medicare, Medicaid, and the Older Americans Act were passed:

  • The first public commission on aging in the United States was established in Massachusetts in 1909.
  • The science of geriatrics was born in 1909, and the first textbook in the filed was published in 1914.
  • The first old age pension system was created by Arizona in 1915.
  • Beginning early in the 1920's senior interest groups were formed to provide platforms for lobbying.
  • Social Security was established in 1935. (In fact, the United States created its federal retirement system late in the game; most European countries had enacted old age insurance decades before America did.)
  • The first senior center was established in 1943.
  • The Gerontological Society was established in 1945.
  • The Friendly Visitors Program was founded in 1946.
  • The National Retired Teacher's Association was founded in 1947.
  • The National Council on the Aging was founded in 1950.
  • The American Association of Retired Persons was founded in 1958, growing out of the National Retired Teacher's Organiatoin
  • In 1961, the first White House Conference on Aging was convened, the Senate Special Committee on Aging was formed, and the National Council of Senior Citizens was founded.
  • The political force behind the events listed above resulted in passage of Medicare, Medicaid, the Older Americans Act, Foster Grandparent Program, Service Corps of Retired Engineers, and Green Thumb, all in 1965.

Now, in the 2000s in the United States, there is a vast network of agencies on aging that advocate on behalf of and coordinate programs for the elderly. Funded through the Older Americans Act, the network includes 57 state agencies on aging, 660 area agencies on aging, and more than 27,000 services providers. In addition, hundreds of national and local interest groups advocate for the elderly. AARP alone has a membership of more than 33 million people. Perhaps most important, Medicare and Social Security touch the lives of nearly every American, and the politics behind the two programs are at the forefront of every politician's mind.

Social Policy and Seniors: The Future

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that in 2000 spending on the elderly accounted for more than one-third of the federal budget, up from about 22 percent in 1971 and 29 percent in 1990 (Congressional Budget Office, 2000).

The portion of the federal budget spent on the elderly is projected to climb to nearly 43 percent by 2010. Under the laws in place in 2000, that share is expected to grown even faster after 2010 as the baby boomers retire and the population aged 65 and older expands by nearly three-quarters over the 2010-2030 period. Spending for Social Security and Medicare consistently accounts for about four-fifths of that total. Given these fiscal problems, social policies affecting seniors in the future are likely to focus on how to provide such benefits for the aging baby boomers and at the same time balance the federal budget.

The information above is reprinted from Working with Seniors: Health, Financial and Social Issues with permission from Society of Certified Senior Advisors® . Copyright © 2009. All rights reserved.