April 30, 2024

Older Adults in an Election Year

Gary A. Officer by: Gary A. Officer, Founder & CEO

Economic Aspirations and Challenges

In the realm of sports, the phrase “entering the business end of their season” signals the culmination of the regular season games, paving the way for the intense battles of the post-season. Similarly, in the arena of elections, we witness a parallel journey from the commencement of campaigns to the pivotal moment where voters must choose between divergent paths forward. As the dust settles, the aspirations and anxieties of various demographic groups come to the fore, shaping the narrative of the electoral landscape.

The Virtues of Intergenerational Teams

The composition of a triumphant team often mirrors a winning formula found in sports: a blend of fresh talent, seasoned expertise, and leadership borne of experience. Like in sports, where rookies, mid-career players, and veterans unite to achieve greatness, the corporate world benefits from intergenerational teams. Research, such as the study conducted by Forbes Insights across three hundred companies, underscores the value of such diverse teams in driving innovation. These teams, spanning different age groups, coalesce around a shared mission and are driven by a profound belief in what they can achieve together. It is on such teams that productivity and innovation flourish, propelled by the unique contributions of each member.

Multigenerational team
The composition of a triumphant team often mirrors a winning formula found in sports: a blend of fresh talent, seasoned expertise, and leadership borne of experience.

Strangely, election cycles are very much like a sporting season. The season begins with several aspiring candidates and concludes with the business end of the cycle: Presidential tickets presented by the two major parties on whom a voting choice can be made. The choice invariably falls between two contrasting visions – and solutions- for the country’s future.

Fears of Economic Insecurity

Anchored within this Presidential election cycle are the fears and aspirations of key demographic groups who – broadly speaking – will determine the electoral outcome. The four demographic groups are The Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Gen Xers (1965-1980), Millennials (1980-1996), and Gen Zs (1996-2012) – with honorable mention for the Post-War generation (1928-1945). History informs us that during years of peacetime, economic security typically ranks as the defining election issue for the American voter. A recent Emerson College poll found that economic concerns rank highest among voters under thirty.

The Overburdened Sandwich Generation

Recent research from the Mather Institute has uncovered a troubling trend: Generation Xers harbor more anxiety about retirement than their Baby Boomer predecessors. Often dubbed the “sandwich generation,” Gen Xers find themselves caught between the dual responsibilities of caring for aging parents while raising their children. This delicate balancing act exacts a toll, emotionally and physically, leaving many feeling stretched to their limits.

However, Gen Xers’ concerns extend beyond the immediate challenges of caregiving. They also grapple with profound worries about the long-term sustainability of Social Security and the erosion of traditional company pensions. These factors compound the retirement insecurity felt by this generation, casting a shadow over their financial future and adding to their burdens.

Vulnerabilities of Age

The months ahead will witness the cyclical cultivation of our nation’s most loyal voting bloc: Older Voters. Older voters engage in the political process because, more than any other group, they have the most to lose. For the vast majority, remaining in the workforce is paramount to their ability to live with dignity as they age. For this voting bloc, the experience of the 2008 Financial Crisis and the Covid inspired economic collapse, resulted in job losses and the erosion of their pensions, to the extent that many will never truly recover.

man using internet at library
Older Americans have a labor force participation rate of 36% and a long-term unemployment rate of 25%

Obstacles to Prolonged Labor Force Participation

We must also consider the sobering day-to-day realities of millions of older Americans in the workforce. According to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics monthly Jobs Report, older Americans, or those age 55 and over, have a labor force participation rate of 36% and a long-term unemployment rate of 25%. This segment of the electorate resides in a space of economic fear and seismic financial insecurity. They also rank among the most reliable voting blocs. This group may just decide the outcome of the next Presidential election.

The Perils of Retirement – How We Compare to Other Nations

Financial insecurity extends beyond our borders. However, the scale of these experiences differs across borders. According to The Natixis Global Retirement Index, which ranks twenty-five developed nations, the U.S. was in “the middle of the pack, outpaced by Iceland, Norway, and Sweden and ahead of the U.K. and Japan. Unsurprisingly, a significant factor influencing our sense of security includes the existence or lack thereof of social safety nets and the provision of affordable healthcare.

A 2022 study from the CFA Institute found, among other things, that the U.S. Retirement System ranks below most of our OECD peers and is more sobering for older Americans. The study further suggests that the U.S. might be less prepared than our peers for retirement, earning a C +, while only three OECD nations rank behind us.

The Pursuit of Happiness

It goes without saying that our general sense of security also informs something more profound: Our sense of happiness. Our general sense of security heavily influences how we feel about ourselves, our communities, and our nation. More recently, our sense of security and belonging was tested as never before by our experience of relative isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The experiences of the pandemic inspired significant interest in the study of happiness. One such study capturing this experience is the World Happiness Report. Released annually in conjunction with the United Nations Day of Happiness, the report provides a fascinating picture of happiness trends across different ages and generations. Significantly, the latest report reveals that the U.S. (23rd) has fallen out of the world’s top 20 for the first time since the first Happiness Report was published in 2012. Interestingly, the report also concluded, among other things, that younger people rather than older people were found to be more likely to be less happy.

The business end of our election cycle will highlight many of the issues presented. Older Americans will be cultivated because the road to the White House may depend on their vote. What they will get in return for their vote remains to be seen. Older Americans have experienced an unforgiving workforce environment that has created tremendous barriers to their participation, the erosion of their sense of financial security due to major economic setbacks, and the weakening of social safety nets that have not kept pace with inflation.


As our nation navigates the final stages of this electoral cycle, the spotlight inevitably falls on older Americans, whose ballots may hold the key to the White House. Yet, their journey through the years has been fraught with challenges—economic downturns, vanishing safety nets, and dwindling prospects for a secure retirement. It’s a solemn reminder that amidst the clamor of political discourse, we must not forget those whose sacrifices and struggles have shaped our collective destiny. It’s incumbent upon us to forge a future where the golden years truly shine, where every vote cast is a testament to a promise fulfilled, and where the legacy we leave is one of compassion and equity for all generations to come.