Half of registered voters in North Carolina ages 45 and older are anxious about their finances and not having enough money to live comfortably in their retirement years, according to a new survey from the AARP.
During a discussion hosted by the association in Raleigh on Tuesday, panelists addressed issues that matter to older voters — including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and policies for unpaid caregivers — and said those issues aren’t being discussed by local and national politicians.
“Older voters matter,” said Doug Dickerson, the state director of the AARP. “Older voters, who comprise about one-quarter of the voting population in this campaign season, remain up for grabs, and surprisingly have not been pursued by any candidates to date.”
Some politicians, including Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr and his Democratic challenger, Deborah Ross, devote sections of their campaign websites to issues related to seniors.
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And now AARP has released a video showing Gov. Pat McCrory and Attorney General Roy Cooper, his gubernatorial opponent, discussing their plans for promoting financial security.
“This is the first time that AARP in North Carolina has put together this type of an older voter issue forum,” Dickerson said. “These voters are going to be so impactful, so we want to ensure that these issues are in front of them so they can hear what the guy that they think they want to vote for is really saying on the issues that matter to them.”
He said the AARP is nonpartisan and does not endorse candidates.
Dickerson said AARP has 1.1 million members in North Carolina and 100,000 members in Wake County. Jennifer Sauer, a senior researcher at AARP, presented the key findings of a telephone survey conducted from Aug. 18-21 with 1,000 registered N.C. voters. She presented them to the four panelists and dozens of AARP members gathered at the Raleigh Marriott City Center.
A majority of those voters surveyed in North Carolina support a state retirement savings plan, but 87 percent say they haven’t read, heard or seen any information on where the gubernatorial candidates — Republican McCrory and Democrat Cooper — stand on the issue. A majority, 78 percent, also support legislation that maintains or provides services for unpaid caregivers, but only 9 percent say they have read, heard or seen any information on McCrory and Cooper’s positions on the issue.
Panelists Tuesday included Mitch Kokai, director of communications at the John Locke Foundation; Rob Schofield, director of research at N.C. Policy Watch; Thomas Goldsmith, a freelance writer and former Wake County editor for The News & Observer; and Donna King, the managing editor of North State Journal.
During a question and answer session, one attendee, Margaret Toman, made a personal appeal about the importance of policies that address the challenges faced by unpaid caregivers.
Toman, of Garner, said she worked her entire life and had built up a “big nest egg” for her own retirement. But then her mother, Lou Longest, got sick. Toman spent the next 16 years caring for her mother, who died in December at the age of 102.
“I lost my job in the recession, and things became very, very difficult,” she said. “My finances have been decimated. I would do it again. My mother was a stellar human being. But now I am left with nothing.”
Toman, who said she barely had enough gas to get to the discussion, called on the government to consider giving stipends to unpaid caregivers.
Kokai said Toman should take her story to lawmakers, adding he did not think they were “hard-hearted people” and would balance her concerns with their responsibility to distribute state funds effectively.
Schofield disagreed, saying that he wished the Republican-controlled legislature would be receptive to stories like Toman’s.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think the people that are currently running the state of North Carolina are receptive to that message,” he said. “They’re more interested in this concept of trickle-down economics and cutting taxes for the people at the top.”
He added that, in his opinion, “the best scenario in 2017” is to begin “to repair some of the damage” that has been done to social programs since Republicans gained control of the legislature in 2011.