Once again, President Barack H. Obama, in his 2016 State of the Union address, describes an America that is populated by “hard-working families,” immigrants and select minorities.
But at least this year older Americans were not entirely invisible. He made two fleeting references to older Americans, which is two more than he made in his 2015 address.
Pres. Obama, 54, said Social Security and Medicare are “more important than ever. We shouldn’t weaken them. We should strengthen them.” (Unfortunately, he didn’t say what, if anything, he would do to accomplish this goals.)
And Pres. Obama applauded the “elderly” woman who waits in line to cast a vote as long as she has to.
FYI, Pres. Obama – the term ‘elderly’ is frowned upon today as a descriptor for older Americans because it evokes images of frailty, sickness and decline. The term reflects underlying attitudes about aging that are stereotypical and negative. “Elderly” certainly doesn’t describe the millions of older Americans (like you!) who are vital, energetic and very much engaged in life. The International Longevity Center advises journalists to use the term “older adult” to describe Americans over the age of 50. Good advice.
Obama completely ignored older Americans last year, which was not entirely surprising given that he has ignored older Americans for the past seven years.
The Obama administration has not represented a period of enlightenment regarding older Americans. Obama is the first American president, at least in modern times, to actually endorse age discrimination in hiring. Obama promised in 2009 to work to strengthen the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1964. Not only didn’t he do that but he signed an executive order in 2010 that permits federal agencies to bypass older workers and hire recent graduates. Moreover, Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez supported a private initiative last year by America’s largest corporations to provide jobs to 100,000 inner city “youth” aged 16 to 24, despite the fact that using age as a factor in hiring violates the plain language of the ADEA. Until Obama was elected, federal policy supported job training programs and internships to bolster employment for youth and minorities.
It was Obama’s last State of the Union address. He can take credit for many accomplishments in office but he didn’t do a dang thing for older Americans, many of whom lost jobs, investments and homes in the 2008 recession and have struggled for years with chronic unemployment due to epidemic age discrimination in hiring. The Economic Policy Institute reported in 2013 that about half of Americans aged 65 and older are either in poverty or at risk of poverty.The highest rates of poverty among older Americans are suffered by women and minorities.