AARP Maine recently released the results of its 2014 Survey of Maine Registered Voters age 50 and older. This survey collected the opinions of 2,000 Mainers, both AARP members and nonmembers, regarding a broad range of issues that affect people 50 and older and their families.

The results reveal that Mainers 50 and older are deeply concerned about financial security and maintaining their independence as they age. An overwhelming majority of survey respondents indicated their intention to vote for candidates in 2014 who pledge to address these issues.

In other words, Maine’s most active voting bloc insists that candidates represent their needs and desires, demonstrate concern for issues pertinent to those 50 and older and exhibit a commitment to finding solutions.

Maine residents 50 and older are typically very active at the polls. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, turnout for Maine voters 45 and older in the last midterm election – 68 percent of Mainers between 45 and 64, and 76 percent of Mainers between 65 and 74 – was among the highest in the country. In the 2012 election, the numbers were even higher.

According to the 2014 AARP survey, Maine registered voters age 50 and older say they are likely to vote for candidates who will work on issues that enable Mainers to have financial stability as long as possible. This includes ensuring that they have affordable prescription drugs, affordable homes, safeguards against scams and adequate work opportunities.

The survey reveals the deep concerns of lower-income individuals. Nearly half (49 percent) of respondents earning less than $20,000 annually have no confidence of ever being able to retire. Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of this same group reported being extremely or very worried about having unaffordable health or medical expenses.

These statistics offer valuable insight into the mindset of Maine’s more vulnerable populations. It is worth noting that even if they do retire, one-third of Mainers 65 and older who receive Social Security receive a monthly benefit of just over $1,000 per month and have no other source of income.

Another issue raised through the survey is the desire of Mainers to remain in their own communities as they age (85 percent). Nearly three-quarters of survey respondents believe that funding services that enable seniors to remain in their homes for as long as possible should be a top or high priority for elected officials in the state.

Nearly seven out of 10 think it should be a top or high priority for Maine’s elected officials to support age-friendly communities by funding services, programs or infrastructure changes that enable residents to “age in place.” As AARP prepares to engage the new Legislature in 2015, the information gathered in this survey points to the importance of building a strong policy platform to address these issues.

The survey further reveals that most registered Maine voters age 50 and older have been family caregivers (59 percent) or expect to be in the future (48 percent). Today, unpaid family caregivers provide the bulk of care for older Mainers, in part because the cost of long-term care remains unaffordable for most middle-income families.

In Maine each year, more than 191,000 residents help their aging parents, spouses and other loved ones stay at home by providing assistance with bathing and dressing, transportation, finances, complex medical tasks like wound care and injections, and more. The annual value of this unpaid care totals approximately $2.3 billion.

Maine women are particularly affected by caregiving. Women surveyed were more likely than men to say they are currently or have been a caregiver (65 percent vs. 53 percent). This is significant because nationally, women have on average 12 fewer years in the paid work force over their lifetimes – in large part because of caregiving responsibilities.

The time out of the work force not only lowers women’s lifetime earnings and savings, but also lowers their ultimate Social Security and pension benefits. The subsequent retirement savings loss substantially increases women’s risk of long-term economic insecurity.

From caregiving to financial security, to the need for age-friendly communities and consumer protections against fraud, AARP Maine’s 2014 survey lays the groundwork for prioritizing fruitful discussions among the 2014 candidates on these issues, which are clearly of paramount importance to the well-being of Maine residents. AARP Maine stands ready to work with current and future lawmakers to find viable long-term solutions that make sense for Mainers and their families.

Because Maine is the oldest state per capita – with 50 people turning 65 here every day – the issues pertinent to Maine’s older and most active voting demographic must be a top priority in the upcoming elections.

— Special to the Press Herald