At Senate Aging Committee’s 50th Anniversary, Experts Ponder Future Legislative Concerns

Video: Center on Longevity Director Laura Carstensen speaks about the great potential of an aging society and how elected officials must prepare for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. Prepared by the Gerontological Society of America (GSA)

Fifty years after its inception, the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging will have a more important role than ever as America’s senior population continues to grow, according to the newest issue of the Public Policy and Aging Report (PPAR). The report, entitled “America’s Opportunity: The Potential of an Aging Society,” is available from the National Academy on an Aging Society.

For five decades, the committee has called attention to pressing needs that have faced older Americans. And as the PPAR’s authors point out, members of the committee — and indeed all elected officials — must prepare the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

“Major population changes are now underway or accelerating, changes that are taking place within the older population but across the life-span as well, involving individuals of all ages,” stated PPAR Editor Robert Hudson, PhD, chair of the Boston University School of Social Work’s Department of Social Policy.

The new issue, supported by The Archstone Foundation, The SCAN Foundation, The Retirement Research Foundation, and The MacArthur Foundation Research Network on an Aging Society, features several articles by leading authorities on aging. It was released at a special Capitol Hill reception hosted by The Gerontological Society of America (GSA) in December 2011, in honor of the committee’s 50th anniversary. This event follows a forum convened by the committee, titled “Aging in America: Future Challenges, Promise and Potential.”

The PPAR starts with a piece by Hudson, who chronicles the committee’s history. John W. Rowe, MD, chair of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on an Aging Society, then calls on policymakers to appreciate the positive aspects of life extension and to understand population changes in society-wide, rather than cohort-specific, terms — in order to avoid growing tensions between generations, between the haves and have-nots, and between the more- and the less-educated.

Writing from Germany’s University of Mannheim, Axel Boersch, PhD, Gabriel Heller, and Anette Reil- Held use data from Europe, where population aging is more pronounced than in the U.S., to explore how prevalent intergenerational concerns may be. Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and the Stanford Center on Longevity’s Jane Hickie draw attention to the quality and affordability of community life for tomorrow’s elders. They advocate for containing community-living costs, increasing and integrating housing, health, transportation, and support services, and making special efforts directed toward improving the purchasing capacity of elders with disabilities. A final analysis by the Urban Institute’s Richard Johnson, PhD, focuses on work, retirement, and labor market conditions for older workers. He writes that both employers and public policy can and should be modified to meet the needs and preferences of older workers.

The current issue of PPAR, titled “America’s Opportunity: The Potential of an Aging Society,” is available from the National Academy on an Aging Society, GSA’s policy branch, at