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Advocacy groups, especially the almost 40m-member AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons), have exploited this fear.
Both Barack Obama and Republicans in Congress claim that reforming such entitlements is a priority. In the next two decades people aged 65 and over will rise from 17% of the voting-age population to 26% (see chart 1).The cost of the two programmes will grow from 8.4% of GDP in 2010 to 11.2% by 2030.Meanwhile, as boomers retire, the workforce will grow more slowly, as will the taxes to finance their benefits.FROM the moment they entered the workforce in the 1960s, baby-boomers began to shape America's economy and politics. The first of the estimated 78m Americans born between 19 turn 65 in 2011, the normal age for retirement.As their ranks swell in coming years, the burden of financing their retirement will mount. Retiring boomers will squeeze the economy from two directions.Last July they accused it of threatening “access to quality care for seniors”—while at the same time, perversely, they attacked the health bill's failure to rein in “skyrocketing costs”.
Traditionally, Republicans have been less trusted than Democrats on health care and Social Security.
Andrea Campbell of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology believes it was the creation of Social Security in the 1930s and Medicare in the 1960s that transformed the elderly into the most politically engaged age group in America.
Ever more comfortable in retirement, they had the time and the means to follow politics and an issue to motivate them.
But threats to the programmes seldom seemed significant or imminent.
That may have changed in 2010 with Mr Obama's health-care reform.
In recent years the elderly have become a more distinctive voting block.