Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Generations United’s Response to the State of the Union Address

“…what I believe unites the people of this nation, regardless of race or region or party, young or old, rich or poor, is the simple profound belief in opportunity for all…”

President Barrack Obama called on Americans of all generations to unite in common purpose in his 2014 State of the Union Address. Several of his policy recommendations connected directly to Generations United’s recently released, Out of Many, One: Uniting the Changing Faces ofAmerica, in which experts used the lens of America’s changing race and age demographics to discuss key issues in employment, transportation, civic engagement.  The President touched on other important intergenerational issues including education and healthcare.

Employment and Infrastructure
Building off the four years of economic growth, President Obama proposed policies to protect middle class security and opportunity at work while expanding jobs and economic opportunities. We applaud the President for raising the minimum wage to $10.10 for federal contract workers and call on Congress to follow his lead.  President Obama also called for building a 21st century workplace for America’s working families which includes grandfamilies and multigenerational families.  Recognizing the important role of caregivers, the President said: “A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship – and you know what, a father does, too.” We would add a grandparent or other caregiver does too.

Generations United supports these ladders of opportunities that lift poor Americans into the middle class, especially the President’s proposal to increase the number of innovative apprenticeships in America. The President can take his bid a step further. That’s why we are suggesting that employers encourage innovation and incentivize the most effective internship, apprenticeship, fellowship, and workforce development programs for younger and older workers. Another ladder of opportunity is the Earned Income Tax Credit and President Obama was right to call on Congress to work together to strengthen the credit, reward work, and help more American get ahead.

Civic Engagement
Speaking on the need to strengthen the Voting Rights Act, President Obama insisted that all Americans support everyone’s right to vote. “It should be the power of our vote, not the size of our bank account, that drives our democracy.”  As we consider reforms to fully engage all Americans, it must include strategies that ensure engagement of all ages of eligible voters.  Voter turnout is 72 percent among older adults and just 45 percent among young people.  Registration is the biggest hurdle among young people. Yet when they are registered they vote at the same rates as older adults. That’s why Generations United believes that allowing same-day registration for voting nation-wide ensures everyone has a stake in driving our democracy. Since low voter turnout undermines the basic premise of self-governance and self-presentation, the federal government can clear this unnecessary roadblock by adopting a uniform standard allowing eligible voters to register to vote and cast their ballots on the same day. Our report found that states that allow Same-Day Registrations (SDR) lead the nation in voter participation—and have a narrower age-based gap in voting.

In his push for the most dynamic, educated workforce, President Obama proposed legislation that helps children and youth succeed in the 21st century. “Research shows that one of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is high-quality early education,” the President said. Generations United affirms that investments in quality early childhood education, experiences and environments benefit not just children but people of all ages by reducing crime, improving  community safety, contributing to family stability, enhancing the quality of our workforce and strengthening our economy. That's why older-adult advocates in 42 states and DC have pledged to raise their voices in support of children as part of Generations United's Seniors4Kids.

The President’s policy for education also includes transforming America’s high schools and making college more affordable for American families. “We’re working to redesign high schools and partner them with colleges and employers that offer the real-world education and hands-on training that can lead directly to a job and career,” President Obama said. “We’re shaking up our system of higher education to give parents more information, and colleges more incentives to offer better value, so that no middle-class kid is priced out of a college education.” Generations United offers a range of intergenerational approaches to "shake up our system of education" and help college graduates with student loan debt such as promoting home-sharing. The home-sharing model, outlined in our report, matches older people who want to stay in their homes, have extra space and need modest care or companionship with young people who need affordable living spaces and have the time and energy to contribute to maintenance and care in exchange for housing. Going a step further in addressing the student debt crisis, the federal government could cut student loan debt by offering to lower rates by a point for students who take part in a formal home-sharing arrangement that helps older adults stay in the community.

President Obama recognized Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear – whose wife, First Lady Jane Beshear, has a strong history as an intergenerational champion in her role as honorary co-chair of Generations United's Seniors4Kids in Kentucky program. Governor Beshear has modeled effective outreach to improve healthcare access to Kentucky families. Thanks to health care reform, three million young Americans under 26 have coverage on their parents’ insurance, while nine million Americans signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid. And in the process of fixing America’s health care system, being dropped or denied coverage for a preexisting condition is a thing of the past. Generations United applauds the President for urging young and old to work together to help those without health insurance get signed up by the March 31st deadline. “Moms, get on your kids to sign up,” he said. “Kids, call your mom and walk her through the application. It will give her some peace of mind – plus, she’ll appreciate hearing from you.”

Generations United also agrees Americans need to save more for retirement to supplement Social Security benefits they have contributed to throughout their working lives. Calling on employers to help through the creation of ‘myRA’ savings account may be a helpful tool. However, this proposed new program should in no way weaken Social Security which is a critical family protection program.

Throughout his remarks, President Obama reaffirmed the critical interdependence of generations. “After all, that’s the spirit that has always moved this nation forward,” he said. “It’s the spirit of citizenship – the recognition that through hard work and responsibility, we can pursue our individual dreams, but still come together as one American Family to make sure the next generation can pursue its dreams as well.”

Well said, Mr. President. Our reliance on each other matters. Because we are stronger together.

For nearly three decades, Generations United has been the catalyst for policies and practices stimulating cooperation and collaboration among generations, evoking the vibrancy, energy and sheer productivity that result when people of all ages come together.  We believe that we can only be successful in the face of our complex future if generational diversity is regarded as a national asset and fully leveraged.

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