Plight of the Aged

November 10, 1971

Report Outline
Concern for Problems of the Elderly
Conditions of Life Among Old People
Issues and Portents for the Future
Special Focus

Concern for Problems of the Elderly

Deepening Trouble Despite Many Aid Programs

The aged are supposed to be America's forgotten people, though actually they are becoming more visible all the time. Not only are their numbers increasing, but the calls for public attention to their plight grow more insistent and there has been a steady growth of programs introduced in their behalf. This has been going on for decades. Today's aged were young when Congress, in 1935, responding to widespread concern for the needs of old people, adopted the Social Security Act, thus instituting the nation's first national pension and welfare systems—the latter providing a special category of assistance to the indigent aged. Since then the old people have never really faded from public view. The programs have multiplied, the rhetoric has soared.

Today, on the eve of the White House Conference on Aging to be held in Washington Nov. 28-Dec. 3, the third decennial conference of its kind to be sponsored by the federal government, it might be expected that the 3,400 expected participants could look back with gratification on a social problem well and generously handled. Yet the dismal tale of neglect, of untended ills, or discrimination, exploitation, humiliation, loneliness, privation, even near-starvation, continues to be told. Despite all the studies and exhortations, the programing and the funding, “the plight of the aged” has much the same meaning for the delegates of 1971 as it had for their predecessors in decades past. The aged have gained important benefits. But in some ways their plight has worsened.

The problem facing the 1971 conference is not just a matter of gaps to be filled in existing programs. More resistant to correction are the disadvantages due to changes in the physical and psychological environment in which the elderly live. The decline of mass transit in favor of the private automobile is an example of a physical change for which many old people pay a terrible penalty in isolation from friends and facilities. The dominance of the youth culture is an example of a change in the social atmosphere that encourages a contempt for, or at best a patronizing attitude toward, the old. One unhappy consequence is that society tends to reject the potential contribution of many capable old people, thus hastening the atrophy of their gifts and deepening the depression so common in the late years.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Older Americans and Senior Citizens
Sep. 30, 2011  Prolonging Life
Mar. 15, 2011  The Graying Planet
Oct. 13, 2006  Caring for the Elderly
Feb. 20, 1998  Caring For the Elderly
Aug. 01, 1997  Age Discrimination
Dec. 06, 1991  Retiree Health Benefits
Aug. 19, 1988  The Elderly in an Aging America
Nov. 21, 1986  Home Health Care
Aug. 06, 1982  Housing Options for the Elderly
Nov. 10, 1971  Plight of the Aged
Nov. 06, 1963  Nursing Homes and Medical Care
May 20, 1959  Housing for the Elderly
Sep. 04, 1957  Health of the Aged
Aug. 01, 1949  Older People
Mar. 29, 1938  The Job Problem for Older Workers
Aging Issues
Civil Rights: Senior Citizens
Elderly Health Issues
Retirement, Pensions, and Social Security