By STEPHANIE REITZ, Associated Press
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ With their matching red T-shirts and bobbing sea of mostly white and gray hair, it’s easy to spot Connecticut AARP members when they descend on the state Capitol to lobby lawmakers on energy prices, affordable home care and seniors’ safety.
Now, they have a new leader, a record number of members and the backing of new U.S. Census figures that show Connecticut’s median age has hit 40 for the first time –including a sizeable jump in the number of seniors living past 85.
As the General Assembly moves toward its adjournment Wednesday, the local AARP and its volunteers are kicking off a telephone campaign to get lawmakers to approve a bill that overhauls Connecticut energy policies and, according to its supporters, might reduce some residents’ electricity costs.
Lawmakers say while they make a conscious effort not to be too strongly influenced by any one group or constituency, the needs of Connecticut’s growing number of senior citizens are becoming more obvious each year.
“I really do hope there’s a growing influence, because the older population is growing in leaps and bounds in this state and there’s a lot of work to do ahead, no doubt about it, to meet their needs,” said state Sen. Edith Prague, 85, a Democrat from Columbia and co-chair of the legislature’s Aging Committee.
One person taking on a leading role in that work: Laura Green, the newly appointed president of the state AARP chapter, whose 597,000 paying members outnumber the entire enrollment of Connecticut’s public school students.
Like many fellow members, Green, 63, is a baby boomer who expects her eventual retirement to be filled with activism and volunteerism _ not the once-accepted stereotypes of retirees as homebound, increasingly frail and increasingly isolated.
“The whole vision is changing of who a senior citizen is,” said Green, adding that more than half of the chapter’s members are still working. “People who are retired or 50-plus are a vital and powerful group of individuals.”
Green, of Manchester, received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Connecticut and is president of Nutmeg Big Brothers/Big Sisters in addition to her two-year, unpaid spot as AARP’s chapter president.
She has held leadership posts at the YWCA of Eastern Fairfield County, Planned Parenthood of Connecticut and other community service and business organizations.
Green will be calling on those advocacy skills and the AARP’s active volunteer corps as they push lawmakers in the waning days of the session to act on the energy bill, to keep seniors’ cost-sharing amount down for a state-subsidized home aides program, and other measures.
“As we look at the issues that are so much in the forefront, those of us who are in the 50-plus category have a lot to be concerned about,” she said. “I think being part of an organization that brings to bear the voices of nearly 600,000 people gives you a great deal more potential impact than we have as individuals.”
Connecticut’s shift toward an older population was particularly evident this spring when the 2010 U.S. Census figures were released, showing the state’s population was the seventh-oldest in the nation. At exactly 40 years old, its median places it among only seven states at 40 or higher.
Ten years ago, Connecticut’s median age was 37.4 and, in 1990, it was 34.4. Researchers say Connecticut’s aging trend results from a combination of factors: a huge growth in the number of those living past 85, a lower birth rate than the national average and many young adults’ decisions to move away after college.
As the state with the seventh-highest median age, Connecticut was behind only Maine, Vermont, West Virginia, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania. Maine’s was the highest at 42.7, and nationwide, the median was 37.2 years old.
But while some found Connecticut’s new 40-year-old median age benchmark surprising, a few others were slightly amused.
“I had to chuckle about that,” said Prague, the 85-year-old state senator. “Here I am at 85 and I thought to myself, `Forty years old? Aw, that’s still a kid.”’
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)