Seniors vote, but do they have a candidate?
There have been a few ghost issues in the current mayor’s race. A few months back, we pointed out that the homeless were lacking a voice, being spoken for rather than speaking. But there has been another, much larger group that has gotten only peripheral attention at best.
State Sen. Anthony Williams lost his father, former Sen. Hardy Williams, in 2010. However, you’ll still catch his mother supporting him in energetic spirits at many of the mayoral events. Both of Jim Kenney’s parents are well, too. The youngest candidate, 40-year-old Doug Oliver, never knew his father, but still has his mother. Milton Street’s parents — who knows? His campaign team never returns any of our phone calls.
Despite at least one living parent, we haven’t heard a peep about elderly issues from any of these candidates. According to campaign teams, each of them has some senior citizen pitch in the pipeline.
Here’s the brief on the two candidates who have already reached out to seniors, and why it matters for the May primary — not just to the elderly, but to the city’s ever-expanding population of young people as well.
Mayors for elders
In his social justice policy proposal, former Court of Common Pleas Judge Nelson Díaz addresses eldercare from a personal angle:
“My own parents have moved in with me, which has given me a deep appreciation for the struggles seniors face in our city. My parents can rely on my wife Sara and I, but not every senior has family they can count on the same way — and it’s unfair and unrealistic to ask family caregivers to shoulder the entire burden. Elder care is a crucial challenge, and it’s one we need to take seriously.”
He then makes a pledge to focus on issues facing seniors, from in-home resources to rising property taxes — including a note about making public transit more senior-friendly. Where he’ll get the money for “adaptive modifications to existing homes that will keep seniors out of assisted living facilities,” it doesn’t say. Díaz nonetheless has the issue at heart.
But hands down, Abraham makes the most focused policy proposals for elderly. While she too shies away from funding, she is, at the same time, the only candidate to have set aside an entire section of her platform to address senior issues.
They are by no means airy pledges. In addition to the standard ideas like increasing senior center services, the former District Attorney touches on public transit issues, affordable housing units, and increasing city partnerships with senior-centric nonprofits.
She also proposes to establish two new initiatives. One is a program that would give access to free or reduced-cost cellular phones, landline phones, computers and medical alert devices for seniors.
The other deals with a topic that most people want to avoid.
While she doesn’t specifically mention do-not-resuscitate orders or health care proxies, Abraham proposes a public service announcement campaign that would inform seniors of about “the availability of free or reduced-cost legal and end-of-life planning services from organizations such as CLC’s Elderly Law Project.”
Abraham’s PSA campaign would deal with the logistics of advance planning for both seniors and their families — especially those who don’t have ease of access to services.
"After a life of working and contributing to the city, our seniors have earned the right to a safe and secure retirement,” Abraham told AL DÍA. “We must do everything we can to ensure that Philadelphia is an affordable and accommodating city for our seniors. I have developed a decisive and concise plan to ensure the needs of our seniors are addressed."
She did not comment on her opponents’ lack of a plan for our seniors.
Why 65 matters to 35
In every county touching Philadelphia, the median age has gone up over the last 15 years. Montgomery, Burlington, and Bucks counties are all over 40 years old on average. But in the city, the median age dropped to 33.5 years between 2000 and 2010.
This is nothing new. At nearly every mayoral forum, someone has mentioned the city’s increasing youthfulness. It usually comes up in the context of millennials and young professionals that have adopted the city as their home in the last decade.
But how does this affect seniors, let alone the election?
As of the November 2014 general election, we had 1,036,943 registered voters, 806,784 of them were democrats. The Democratic primary in 2007, which most resembles our current race in terms of the number of viable candidates, brought just 291,492 Dems to the booth. What can we expect this May? In terms of determining the race, some say the young vote could be game-changing (if they actually vote, that is).
What’s implicit in the millennial vote is that most 33-year-olds’ parents are still alive, and probably nearing retirement age. The 20-somethings tend to worry less about the issue, but it’s only a matter of years before they have to think about caring for their parents. There are over 65 million caregivers in this country, and the average age is 48 years old. But still, 51 percent of these caregivers cover a wide range between 18 and 49.
More relevant to the immediate outcome of the primary:
Philadelphians 65 and older — over 185,000 of them, or 12 percent of the city’s population — are experienced voters. Nearly all of them — 180,662 — are registered. The disabled of those have access to hundreds of polling places. 43 of these polling places across the city are located within senior centers and nursing homes.
In the last mayoral primary in 2011, seniors had a 43 percent voter turnout, casting 77,277 votes. Of those elderly who voted in the last primary, the overwhelming majority (67,275) were Democrat.
Does that number look familiar? It is. Roughly 70,000 voters has been called the magic for a contender (or at the very least, a game-changer) in this race. With 6 candidates and an expected 300k voter turnout, it’s basic arithmetic. The question now is, do we have one candidate who could take the lion’s share of the senior vote? How much will those senior votes break down along racial lines?