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Statement on Aging by Senator John F. Kennedy

October 12, 1960

Senator John F. Kennedy today announced that a group of distinguished scientists and practitioners in the field of aging released a statement endorsing his approach to meeting the problems of the Nation's 16 million senior citizens. The prominent gerontologists signing the statement entitled it "A Positive Response to the Challenge of Aging." Senator Kennedy said:

I regard this statement as a major document setting forth my objectives and program in this important new field.

Senator Kennedy added:

The aged of this Nation deserve to spend their retirement years with proper recognition and respect for the contributions they have made to the American economy. They should have an income adequate to permit them to continue their important contributions to American life and a program of medical insurance through the social security system for dignified health care. I am proud of the endorsement of these outstanding scientists and practitioners in the field of aging.

I pledge to work with them in applying more rapidly the proven results of their research and experience. With good physical and mental health our senior citizens can derive meaning and joy from their golden years.


A quiet revolution has taken place in the age structure of American society. There are not only 16 million Americans over the age of 65 with an estimated 26 million by 1980; there are also 6 million over the age of 75; over a million Americans reach retirement age every year; and one out of every three persons reaching the age of 60 has a parent or close relative over 80 to worry about. To a substantial extent - and increasingly so in the next decade - there is emerging not one but two generations of senior citizens.

Increased life expectancy is one of the greatest social achievements of our times. At the turn of the century life was short and aging appeared as progressive decline, deterioration, and dependency.

But today's older population, and tomorrow's senior citizens, not only expect to live half again as long but with a new vibrancy and usefulness in these later years. They expect, and intend to make it come true, that the years of retirement shall be healthy and creative years; that accumulated wisdom and experience shall lead to fuller self-development and broader social contributions - perhaps greater than in any other period of life.

This vision of health, dignity, and continuing contribution to society as the status of America's senior citizens is the heart of Senator John F. Kennedy's effort to make the decade of the sixties a decade of action for and by older Americans. It is a view sharply in contrast with the charity approach, or the demeaning consignment of the aged as dependent burdens upon their families and public relief.

The clearest evidence of this difference in approach can be seen in the problem of health care for the aged. Some of the proposals have been founded upon a degrading means test. Senator Kennedy, on the other hand, proposed a dignified, fiscally sound method of meeting the heavy costs of medical care for the aged. Employees and employers would pay small premiums through the social security system during their working lives and would have a paid up, earned medical policy upon retirement - as a matter of right.

Unfortunately, a life of health, dignity, and independence in retirement has not been realized by millions of America's senior citizens. The pioneering, exhaustive studies of the Senate Subcommittee on Problems of the Aged and Aging, led by Senator McNamara of Michigan and Senator Kennedy, provide conclusive statistical and human evidence that at least half of those over 65 - 8 million older Americans:

have income inadequate for good nutrition and ordinary living;

have serious health problems and even more serious problems of paying for medical care.

In addition, too many of the aged and aging:

face discrimination in eniployment because of age;

have unsuitable, often unbearable, housing conditions;

have little recreation, too often resulting in isolation and mental disturbance.

But the problems of aging are not just for those over 65. It is a process we all undergo and are affected by. For men over 40 or 45, for women over 30 - at the peak of their productive powers - employment opportunities begin to close and young people for the first time in their lives begin to feel old. This problem of aging - based on myth and prejudice - should be eradicated so that employment opportunities can be based on ability, not an arbitrary age.

The problems of aging are universal. The married couple with disabled parents to support; the man about to retire; the widow with years of loneliness ahead; the ordinary citizen as taxpayer. These are all of us. Aging is not something that happens to somebody else. Short of birth itself, and death, scarcely any fixed pattern of our lives affects mankind more.

Senator Kennedy has addressed hhnself to this major challenge with clear understanding of the basic processes at work. His program provides the social and economic base upon which the senior citizens of this Nation can stand with dignity, independence, and the exercise of free choice. This is the human condition they so richly deserve.

Senator Kennedy has endorsed, and we affirm this declaration of objectives for older Americans:

Freedom, independence, and the free exercise of individual initiative in planning and managing their own lives.

The best possible physical and mental health which medical science can make available and without regard to economic status.

Opportunity for employment with no discriminatory personnel practices because of age.

An adequate income in retirement in accordance with the American standard of living.

Retirement in health, honor, dignity after years of contribution to the economy.

Suitable housing, independently selected, designed, and located with reference to special needs and available at costs which older citizens can afford.

Full restorative services for those who require institutional care.

Immediate benefit from proven research knowledge which can sustain and improve health and happiness.

Efficient community services which provide social assistance in a coordinated manner and which are readily available when needed.

Pursuit of meaningful activity within the widest range of civic, cultural, educational, and recreational opportunities.

Ten years ago, President Truman called the First National Conference on Aging, which established a benchmark and gave impetus to this entire field. Senator Kennedy in the 1960's will provide the magnetic leadership to stride across this new social frontier with concrete accomplishments and with appreciation of the aged not as a problem, but as a positive gain of American civilization.


Ernest W. Burgess, Ph. D., Professor Emeritus and Former Chairman, Department of Sociology, University of Chicago; Past President, American Gerontological Society; Honorary President, Illinois Gerontological Society; Editor, Aging in Western Society.

Leonard Breen, Ph. D., Professor of Sociology; Consultant on Aging to State Health Department.

Joseph C. Buckley, Member, National Advisory Committee, White House Conference on Aging; Former Chairman, Connecticut Commission of Services for Elderly Persons.

Wilbur J. Cohen, Professor of Public Welfare Administration, School of Social Work, The University of Michigan; Former Director of Research, Social Security Administration; member Research Committee, International Association of Gerontology; National Consultant on Social Security and Income Maintenance.

Albert Deutsch, Noted Journalist and Author of The Shame of the States; The Mentally Ill in America; Coauthor with David Schneider, A History of Public Welfare in New York State.

James P. Dixon, M.D., President, Antioch College; Former Commissioner of Health, Philadelphia; Former Professor of Public Health, University of Pennsylvania.

Wilma Donahue, Ph. D., Chairman, Division of Gerontology, Institute for Human Adjustment, University of Michigan; Member Michigan Governor's Commission on Aging; Chairman Planning Committee on Role and Training of Professional Personnel for The White House Conference on Aging; Director, University of Michigan Conference on Aging.

Robert Dorfman, Ph. D., Professor, Department of Economics, Harvard University and currently at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University; Coauthor, The Economic Status of the Aged.

Jacob Gold, President, Illinois Association of Homes for Aged; Executive Director, Orthodox Home for Jewish Aged; President, Illinois Gerontological Society; Chairman of Housing Committee, Illinois Conference on the Aging.

Franz Goldmann, M.D., Associate Professor of Medical Care, Emeritus, Harvard School of Public Health.

Robert W. Kleemeier, Ph. D., Professor, Department of Psychology, Washington University, St. Louis, Mo.; Secretary Gerontological Society, Inc.; Former Director, Moosehaven Research Laboratory in Gerontology.

Louis Kuplan, President, International Association of Gerontology, San Francisco, California; Immediate Past-President American Gerontological Society; Former Executive Secretary, California Citizens Advisory Committee on Aging.

Basil McLean, M.D., Former President of Blue Cross Association; Member White House Commission on Intergration of Medical Service; Former Commissioner of Hospitals, New York City; Former Chairman New York State Commission on Medical Care; Director, Companion Life Insurance Company.

John McCollum, Ph. D., Director, Union Research and Education Project, University of Chicago; Member, Cook County Committee on Retirement; Illinois Governor's Committee for the White House Conference on Aging; City of Chicago, Mayor's Commission for Senior Citizens.

W. W. Morris, Ph.D., Director, Institute of Gerontology, State University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa.

James O'Brien, Committee on Retired Workers, United Steel Workers, AFL-CIO; Member, New Jersey Governor's Advisory Board on Aging; Consultant to Committee on Housing, White House Conference on Aging.

Charles O'Dell, Director, Retired Workers Department, United Auto Workers, AFL-CIO; Executive Council, National Committee on Aging; Secretary Michigan Governor's Commission on Aging; Treasurer, Michigan Gerontological Society; Member of Detroit Metropolitan Committee on Aging.

Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, New York City.

Arnold M. Rose, Ph. D., Professor of Sociology, University of Minnesota; Chairman, Minnesota Committee for White House Conference on Aging.

Ethel Shanas, Ph. D., Vice-President, Illinois Gerontological Society; Past Member, Executive Council of American Gerontological Society; National recognition in social research in aging.

Cecil G. Sheps, M D Professor of Medical and Hospital Administration, Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh; Member, Planning Committee on Health and Medical Care for White House Conference on Aging.

Leo W. Simmons, Ph. D., Professor of Sociology, Institute of Research and Service in Nursing Education, Teachers College, Columbia University; Author, The Role of the Aged in Primitive Society.

Herman Somers, Ph. D., Professor and Chairman, Department of Political Science, Haverford College; Consultant to Council on Industrial Health of the American Medical Association, The Brookings Institution, U.S. Department of Labor, President's Commission on Veterans' Pensions.

Sidney Spector, Staff Director, U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Problems of the Aged and Aging; Coauthor of The States and Their Older Citizens Member of National Committee on Aging; Member Research Committee, American Gerontological Society; Secretary, Federal-State Conference on Aging.

Frank Van Dyke, Professor, School of Public Health and Administrative Medicine, Columbia University, New York City; Coauthor, Prepayment for Hospital Care in New York State, 1960.

Jack Weinberg, M.D., Associate Professor of Psychiatry, University of Illinois; Attending Psychiatrist, Institute of Psychosomatic and Psychiatric Research and Education, Michael Reese Hospitals; Member National Committee on Aging; Member, Committee on Aging, Group for Advancement of Psychiatry.

Gordon J. Aldridge, Professor School of Social Work, Michigan State University; Chairman, Section on Social Welfare, American Gerontological Society.

Blue Carstenson, Ph. D., Assistant to Chairman, Senior Citizens for Kennedy; former Chairman, Technical Directors, White House Conference on Aging.

Hon. Aime J. Forand, U.S. House of Representatives; Chairman, Senior Citizens for Kennedy.

Leonard Gernant, Ph. D., Associate Director of Field Services, Western Michigan University; Executive Secretary, Michigan Governor's Conference on Aging.

Herbert Shore, Past President, Texas Society on Aging.

Mel Ravits, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology, Wayne State University.

John F. Kennedy, Statement on Aging by Senator John F. Kennedy Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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