In today's Washington Post (and Newsweek, I suppose), Robert Samuelson nominates himself leader of the under-35-voter mob that is supposed to march on the American Association of Retired Persons in protest. Before I grabbed my pitchfork, I thought it might be a nice idea to see what all the fuss was about. It turns out, Mr. Samuelson is encouraging us to "get angry" at AARP (and old people) for mortgaging my generation's future all for the sake of lining the already-stuffed pockets of America's seniors. I see several problems with this approach, not the least of which is the fact that older Americans have disproportionately been walloped by the foreclosure crisis.
My core concerns lie in Americans' retirement and financial security, so I glanced at AARP's positions on such issues in their "voters guide" that has Mr. Samuelson so troubled. First, in the commitments checkbox, AARP asks the candidates to "commit to help end gridlock by working across party lines to develop and support common-sense, bipartisan solutions on health care and financial security." Both candidates in their written response essentially agreed to do so. Innocuous as it is, this hardly strikes me as something I should be angry about.
Second, and more to the point, I found this nugget: "Half of all workers have no organized way to save for retirement such as pensions or 401(k) plans. AARP supports guaranteeing workers access to automatic payroll deductions to an IRA (Individual Retirement Account) in the workplace if their employers do not already provide them a pension or 401(k) plan."
For the record, both candidates, again, essentially agreed. My admitted obsession with automatic enrollment aside, this strikes me as not pandering to current retirees, but future ones. Current workers (especially those of us under 35) plan to retire someday. Thus, we have a vested interest in policy that nudges us into a better retirement that doesn't rely solely on government programs. It misses the point to say that AARP and other organizations are only concerned with today's retirees. In fact, they have a multi-million dollar advertising campaign ("Divided we Fail" and "Future Champions") designed to pin down the candidates on bi-partisan solutions for the long-term health of our financial and entitlement systems, among other things, in which current under-35 workers have as large a stake as anyone.
Making AARP the lone boogeyman ignores the fact that a good chunk of their advocacy agenda is centered around today's workers. I have no doubt our next president and the one after that are going to have to make difficult decisions on entitlements and our financial system, but it seems to me that advocating for common sense solutions for current and future retirees is a decent starting point.