Pam Rainey: Senior spending power is sizable

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Senior Connections

If you are over 55, you might have been a little offended more than once — as I have been — by recent news targeting our age group as culprits of the failing economy.

Medicare and pensions are but two reasons we are being blamed for America going broke.

Don’t buy into it.

We are priceless, and many our age have bank accounts to prove it. In “You Are the New Economic Dynamo,” the AARP Bulletin’s recent article on the “longevity economy,” author John Burgess writes: “Whether working or spending retirement dollars, older Americans are one of the country’s prime engines of commerce and jobs.”

The report goes on to say seniors “hold 80 percent of the country’s personal net worth; they pay $420 billion a year in federal taxes and $250 billion at the state and local level.”

Doesn’t seem like Grandma and Grandpa are culprits of the failing economy to me.

While few companies have recognized the spending potential of consumers ages 55 and older, they provide considerable untapped wealth. For example, my 75-year-old sister called a while back and complained about her recent shopping trip. She and a few friends went to several upscale dress shops but were unable to find age-appropriate apparel.

While sizes and shapes of women and men may change, it is rare that any of them want to dress or look like yesterday’s granny. Older people are very savvy about health and how to take care of their bodies through exercise. They dance. They travel. They dine out. They not only keep up with latest fashions, but also enjoy manicures and pedicures. Massages have become a way of life for this age group.

So why haven’t clothing designers, hair product companies, hairdressers and those who pamper caught up with the no-brainer baby-boomer market?

The article did mention Chico’s, a fabulous apparel store that now features models who have aged beautifully in its catalogs and on its website. These models are chic, with nothing “yesterday” about their attitude or attire.

Another resource, The Economy, A new source of Economy Growth by Paul Irving and Anusuya Chatterjee

In a Forbes commentary piece from April, economists Paul Irving and Anusuya Chatterjee note that according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, disposable income for Americans 50 and older is more than $3 trillion. That age group spent spent more than $250 billion on apparel, personal care products, education and entertainment alone, the authors write.

Perhaps technology is listening to those numbers. Many seniors are proficient users of technology. But I really wonder about the aforementioned markets that senior devour. What other markets are out there, waiting to catch the eyes of seniors with money to spend?

In addition to tapping into this economic resource, perhaps it is time the older population is shown proper respect. Showing condescending attitudes toward seniors is not only rude, it is dangerous.

Burgess writes that an AARP campaign is trying to demonstrate that “older Americans are a huge, unified market that more than pays its way in society and can handsomely reward companies that grasp its importance.”

Word of mouth is still the single best source of advertisement. Manufacturers really don’t want a senior upset. They have more time and energy to tell their friends and neighbors about their experience.

In 1995, when I went to work for the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, a nonprofit organization in Denton, I found a huge bias against seniors as I tried to raise resources for senior volunteer programs. During my tenure there, I wrote a column on elder abuse. In the 1990s, there were few resources to be found on the subject. In fact, I had to dig for information for my column.

I was determined, however, to stimulate conversation about this type of abuse that was taking place behind closed doors. I witnessed young relatives stealing money from older and vulnerable family members, as well as a general attitude lacking respect for seniors. I wrote my first column on the topic in the late 1990s.

Today, there is information everywhere about elder abuse. We have come a long way. In the next five years, it is my hope that industries come to recognize and respect the senior population and gear products and services toward them.

Perhaps Jody Holtzman, senior vice president of thought leadership with AARP, has some wisdom. Holtzman says one of the best investment strategies would be for every investor to ask every startup one question when they are looking for seed money: What’s your plan to attract customers ages 50 and older?

Whether the product provider is small or large, I foresee the 50-plus generation being a key to an upswing in our economy. But whether seniors hold the pocketbook or not, it is plain rude to forget the aging population.

PAM RAINEY is a longtime Denton resident and a real estate agent who has helped many seniors make decisions about living arrangements. You can reach her with suggestions at or 940-293-3117.

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