By Ramin Rajaii
UCLA Luskin Student Writer
“What kind of America do you want?”
This was the question posed by A. Barry Rand at the latest UCLA Luskin Lecture Series event. Rand is the CEO of AARP, the world's largest nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for individuals over the age of 50.
“For us at AARP,” Rand said, “we want a society in which everyone lives with dignity and purpose, achieves their dreams, and enjoys lifelong financial security. Every individual should have the opportunity to achieve the American Dream, whether they are young or old.”
Rand believes that discussions regarding the future of aging in America have never been more pertinent; as the nation undergoes changes in health policy, we are pressed to contemplate their impacts on an aging society.
According to Rand, the idea of old age was transformed from a “life in purgatory” to a desired destination beginning in the 1950s. At once, old age became known as “leisure years,” a reward for a lifetime of hard work.
Changing demographics are challenging the reward of retirement, Rand said. “America is experiencing a dramatic change. This is the first time that minorities account for over half of all births in the past twelve months," he said. "By 2030, racial and ethnic minorities will be 42% of the US population. This new ethnographic makeup becomes new ‘American mainstream’ - where minorities become the majority in the aging population.”
The goal of AARP, outlined by Rand, is primarily to help the growing aging population make a contribution to society while allowing them to be financially prosperous after retirement. In his eyes, three main strategies need to be employed.
First, as social security remains a critical foundation for income security, AARP seeks to promote a full-blown discussion of how it contributes to the wellbeing of older Americans, and how it can be modified to improve effectiveness.
Second, Rand believes it critical to continue lowering growth and healthcare spending system wide – a major tenet of the Affordable Care Act signed into law in 2010.
Finally, “in order to thrive and take advantage of life possibilities,” Rand explained, “people need to live in age-friendly communities.” From his perspective, the nation needs to become more welcoming to residents of all ages.
When asked what AARP should do to position themselves as national advocates for the growing U.S. aging population, Rand succinctly summarized their mission: “We strive to help people have access to affordable healthcare and be financially secure. We are focused on how to be creative in getting the costs down, while ensuring that all generations have the ability to enjoy social security benefits.”
Rand has long fought for social change. He has served as chairman and chief executive officer of Avis Group Holdings, CEO of Equitant Ltd., and executive vice president, Worldwide Operations, at Xerox Corporation.
Read Rand's remarks (PDF)
The Luskin Lecture Series enhances public discourse on topics relevant to the betterment of society. The Series features renowned public intellectuals, bringing together scholars as well as national and local leaders to address society’s most pressing problems.