Mayoral candidates are ignoring older voters

Older adults are the largest voting bloc in this election and will decide who is the next mayor of Chicago. They’re looking for a leader who speaks to them.

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Ross Cali, 91, of Lincoln Park, early voted this month in the Feb. 28 municipal election at the Lincoln Park Branch Library.

A man casts his early vote for the Feb. 28 municipal election at the Lincoln Park Branch Library.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The nine mayoral candidates have spent recent weeks talking to Chicagoans about their plans for the city. But the topic noticeably missing from all the campaign rhetoric is what the city’s next leader plans to do to meet the needs of the largest voting bloc in this election: Chicago’s older adult community.

AARP Chicago has 250,000 members in the city alone, and 86% of voters 50-plus said they planned to vote in this municipal election, according to a survey commissioned by AARP Chicago to better understand the needs and wants of Chicago’s older adults.

The lack of attention from the candidates to the issues impacting older adults is disappointing.

For one, the city’s system of offering essential services for older adults — such as home-delivered meals, transportation, caregiver respite, in-home care and mental health services — is fragmented.

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Our city’s aging services program is tucked away within the Department of Family and Support Services, leaving many families with no idea where to go or even that these services are available.

And while the city (in step with the state) is finally requiring paid sick leave for all workers, Chicagoans have no support if they need to take care of a sick parent, child or loved one. The next mayor needs to implement paid caregiving leave so that the one in three older adult voters who serve as caregivers can do so without fear of losing their jobs.

Crime, rising costs

These specific needs are in addition to the issues faced by those 50 and over that mirror the concerns of the rest of the population. According to our survey:

When it comes to community safety, older Chicagoans do not feel safe to visit the park with their grandchildren, to walk to the grocery store or to ride the train. Overall, 89% of older voters said addressing crime and violence is very important, and three-quarters (74%) of older voters think violence is increasing. In fact, 43% of older adults considered leaving the city in the last year, and nine out of 10 of those who did so said they wanted a safer community.

And relative to affordability, older adults are having a harder time keeping up with the rising costs of housing, utilities, property taxes and services. One-third (35%) of older voters say they are struggling to not fall behind financially. Nearly half (44%) of older voters think Chicago’s economy is weakening.

AARP Chicago is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that does not endorse candidates or make political campaign contributions. But we are dedicated to making sure older adults are able to age comfortably and as they choose.

Because candidates are not addressing older adults, AARP is working to hold all them — and ultimately, the future mayor — accountable. By the end of this week, each of the nine candidates will have sat down with our staff and volunteers to learn about and discuss the issues important to older Chicagoans.

We have pointed the candidates to the Boston Age Strong Initiative, which AARP believes is a great model for supporting its older population. Their program coordinates all city services in Boston to make sure all families and communities have access to them, creating “one-stop shopping” for older adults to get access to services ranging from health to transportation to housing.

We have also strongly encouraged the nine mayoral candidates to review the findings of our Chicago 2023 Mayoral Election Survey at www.aarp.org/chicagovotes.

Older adults in Chicago will turn out to make their voices heard in this election, and they will decide who is the next mayor of Chicago. They’re looking for a leader who speaks to them.

Philippe Largent is state director for AARP Illinois.

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The views and opinions expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chicago Sun-Times or any of its affiliates.

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