Your Voice is Your Right

Nearly three months into our national You’ve Earned a Say conversation – or Tu Voz es Tu Derecha – nearly 500 thousand people have connected with AARP by phone, online, in person at an event or virtually through tele-townhalls.

People are enthusiastically sharing their opinions, asking questions and making sure their voices are heard. And it’s important. We’re a nation governed by the people, for the people. So, when politicians in Washington decide to play politics with two of the strongest programs this nation has ever put in place, it’s time to speak up.

There’s no question, we have a national deficit problem, but Social Security and Medicare – which didn’t contribute to the deficit – shouldn’t be cut back or cut down to solve the problem.

Older Americans are tired of Washington playing politics with these programs that make a world of difference for millions of Americans, especially retirees. About half of older Americans have incomes below $20,000 a year. And for some of these men and women, Medicare makes the difference between staying in good health and having access to affordable medications, to being in poor health with nowhere to turn. Even for people in Medicare, about half of them still spend 17 percent of their income on health care costs. That’s a lot for someone whose annual income may only be $20,000 a year.

Additionally, Social Security provides 90 percent or more of the income of nearly one fourth of all seniors. This is the situation for many Latinos. According to the Social Security Administration, 28 percent of older Latino women have no other source of retirement income besides Social Security.

So, it’s no wonder older Americans are saying loudly and clearly that they want and need Social Security and Medicare. They don’t view these programs as entitlements – something just being given to them – these are benefits people have worked hard to earn and expect to receive them. They’re not just concerned about themselves, either. They’re concerned about their children and grandchildren, too.

It’s difficult to feel confident about retirement security in today’s economic climate. The traditional retirement structure of employer-based pension plans, personal savings, affordable health care and Social Security is crumbling for many employees. Fifty percent of U.S. workers don’t have any retirement plan beyond Social Security. Only 41 percent of retiree households – a household with someone 65+ – have pension or annuity income. And just 20 percent of Latinos reported receiving pension income in 2008.

A significant part of the challenge is that about 45 percent of Latinos are employed in service-oriented jobs, which are less likely to offer a pension plan or a 401k plan, or something similar. Traditionally, these jobs also pay less.

Even when plans are offered, people frequently feel challenged to set money aside if they are struggling to make ends meet on limited wages.

Recently, Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva stated, “A secure retirement is a cornerstone of the American Dream. Latinos are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population and workforce, but they often struggle to access or take full advantage of successful retirement programs. … Instead of weakening Social Security – often the only safety net keeping older Hispanics out of poverty – we need to strengthen Hispanic access to retirement plans and make sure the Social Security guarantee is just as strong for the future as it is today.”

The Congressman’s statement underscores why You’ve Earned a Say is so important. Decisions made about these programs by elected officials will have a dramatic impact on real people – both employed and retired. And no decisions should be made without input from the American people.

For decades, Social Security and Medicare have been making a positive difference for retirees, widows and widowers, children who’ve lost working parents, and some disabled individuals. At times, adjustments have been made to strengthen these programs. Today, we’re facing another moment when the programs need to be strengthened, but many people don’t know how that will be done or how they and their families will be affected.

It’s time for people to have their say about what they think should happen with these programs. It’s time for people to learn more about why changes are needed so they can make the best decisions for themselves and their loved ones.

AARP recognizes that people have different thoughts about Social Security and Medicare. Our goal through You’ve Earned a Say is to provide a platform for people to speak, listen carefully to what they have to say, and share what we hear with decision-makers in Washington, DC – in the White House and on Capitol Hill.

Share your views. Share your concerns. Go to or and make your voice heard. Tu Voz es Tu Derecha.

Rocky Egusquiza is the AARP Vice President, Multicultural Markets & Engagement