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Seniors In Arizona Worry About Future Of ‘Social Safety Net’

Paul and Karen Anderson retired to Sun City West, Ariz. in 2000.

Credit: Photo courtesy Paul and Karen Anderson

Above: Paul and Karen Anderson retired to Sun City West, Ariz. in 2000.


Arizona seniors talk about their concerns over social security and medicare.

— According to the most recent census, Arizona is home to nearly 900,000 seniors. In this election cycle, two insurance programs funded by the federal government have come up again and again. I spoke to some seniors to get their perspective on Social Security and the health insurance program Medicare.

I spent most of a beautiful morning in the car, driving out Sun City West, Ariz. -- a haven for retirees -- to talk with Paul and Karen Anderson. They're on two sides of the presidential coin.

"I voted for Romney," Paul said, "and she's voting for..."

"President Obama," Karen said.

"Anyway, we're having a disagreement," Paul said.

Well, at least on a presidential candidate. But Paul and Karen do agree on one thing.

"We need to have both sides of Congress work together with the president, whoever he is, to make sure that the younger generations continue to have that safety net of Social Security and Medicare when they're elderly," Karen Anderson said.

Both Andersons worry that those two programs may not be sustainable, but Paul told me he thinks they have to be. "It's going to take sacrifices, it's going to take increased taxes, which I despise, but it's gotta be done."

Photo by Nick Blumberg

John David Herman is a Democratic Party organizer in Phoenix.

Whether it actually gets done? That's up to the politicians. And there are plenty of seniors in Phoenix trying to get their politicians of choice elected.

John David Herman helps run the Phoenix office of the Maricopa County Democratic Party. He's 72 and a half, "but who's counting?" he jokes.

"I've got Medicare. It needs to be improved. I don't have that much time. I don't think anything drastic is going to be done within my lifetime. I'm concerned about the future, I've got kids and grandkids."

Herman has already voted early to re-elect President Obama, who he thinks "represents the best of America."

Jim Cronk couldn't disagree more. "If we go down the Obama path, we'll be in a depression so heavy it'll take us a hundred years to get out of," he said.

Cronk is a volunteer doing voter outreach for Vernon Parker, a conservative candidate for Congress.

Photo by Nick Blumberg

Jim Cronk is a volunteer for Vernon Parker, Republican candidate for Congress in Arizona's 9th Congressional District.

"We don't need another communist in Washington, especially a Democrat. And it's hard to figure out if they're the Democrat or Democratic Communist party anymore, because they've meshed so much you can't tell."

All the seniors I interviewed were worried about the future of Medicare and Social Security. But they don't agree on which candidate is best suited to tackle the problems facing America's social safety net -- or how. Some favor privatizing the programs. Others think the programs need more revenue. And whatever proposals come out of either major political party, they'll still have to win over an electorate in Arizona that's fiercely independent, like Paul Anderson.

"My father told me, which I vividly remember, he says, 'If I ever catch you voting a straight party ticket, I'm going to kick your fanny from one end of the state and back.' And I believed him," Anderson said.

"As a citizen of the United States, you owe it to yourself and to the country to investigate various candidates and make sure you make the right decision."

A version of this story originally aired on BBC's Newsday program, which was broadcast live from Phoenix on Nov. 1.

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