The world according to AARP


The American Association of Retired Persons. They dropped the name and only use AARP now, since roughly half of their membership is not retired. I suppose I'm a good example. I was briefly retired, but have decided to save humankind by teaching. Hey, somebody’s got to do it.

Actually, you can become a member of AARP at age 50, which I figure is a little early to be calling yourself elderly. But an early start is good for their membership, which numbers around 35 million, making AARP the largest nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization in the world. Their annual budget is around $800 million. That's more than some third world nations. You can become a member for $12.50. You get magazines, one specifically for baby boomers, tons of advertisements for insurance of all kinds, educational information on elderly issues, discounts at various businesses, and a powerful lobbying force for elderly issues in Washington. Not bad for the money.

AARP started out as The National Retired Teachers Association in 1947. Founded by Ethel Andrus, a retired high school principal, the name changed to the American Association of Retired Persons in 1958. Then, pretty much as now, one of the major issues facing the elderly was getting health insurance. With AARP's help, by 1965 Medicare came into being, basically a universal health-care plan for persons over 65.

The average age of AARP members is sixty-five. That number has been steadily going down, due primarily to the baby boomers signing up – they started turning 50 in 1996. You talk about a nice hand to draw to. AARP should have had no problem in courting and recruiting huge numbers of us, but that has not been the case. AARP was not ready for us, despite us being their future.

AARP, like many organizations, understands the power to be had in sheer numbers. While I doubt we're a whole lot smarter than the previous generation, we are a whole lot more educated, but I wouldn't want to translate that into meaning we are any wiser. Still, we got the numbers. We are more vocal than our parents, and a lot more apt to defy authority. AARP was used to the GI generation, who were by and large accepting of authority, and more apt to follow the crowd. They tended not to cause a lot of commotion. That all started to change for AARP in 1996.

AARP began aggressively attempting to get ready for us. They commissioned a study in 2004 entitled, "A Changing Political Landscape: As One Generation Replaces Another." The study concluded that boomers “have a greater belief in government entitlements and a lesser belief in personal obligations than the GI generation. Boomers are more likely to feel government owes them something and less likely to believe they owe the country certain obligations, such as military service and paying taxes.” They really know how to win us over. But the sweet talk didn't end. "The potential downside of a maturing Baby Boom is clear: as Boomers replace GI's as the dominant electoral demographic, the politics of selfishness could triumph." Flattery will get them nowhere.

AARP clearly didn't have a clue. Most of us have no intention of blindly following the leader. We often choose paths less traveled. Our interests, habits, and needs are not conventional. We have less of a need to belong, and more of a need to be relevant. This is why many of the fraternal and social organizations championed by the GI generation will over the coming years whither up and vanish. AARP will need to be careful they are not one of them.

One of AARP' s biggest mistakes was their backing of the Republican endorsed Medicare bill regarding prescription drugs and privatization. AARP's leadership said they did it for the future, attempting to play into the boomers’ hands. Ends up it apparently had a whole lot more to do with AARP's president and the chairman of the board playing into the hands of a Republican administration. Because of AARP' s quick and unequivocal backing, they lost approximately 50,000 members, one of which was me. I sent my card in, stating that if they were going to act like the GOP, I was out. So far, that's were I remain, although I miss those discounts.