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David Pacheco

Battered by a down economy, frustrated by prices rising faster than inflation, and worried by health costs that could wreak havoc on family finances, America's workers may not feel much like celebrating this Labor Day.

For our 2012 presidential and congressional candidates, this should be a wake-up call. Instead, in an increasingly digital age, voters aren't getting answers. They aren't getting policy solutions or plans for the future of our nation. What they are getting is political jargon and sound bites with substance that amounts to little more than political junk food.

Kern County has a huge stake in the outcome of this election, with 92,166 Medicare beneficiaries and 109,465 residents currently receiving Social Security benefits.

As campaigns kick into high gear, the public deserves a real discussion on the future of these critical programs. AARP can help. The association is engaging our members and the public with "You've Earned a Say," a nationwide effort to make sure all Americans understand where our candidates stand on Social Security, Medicare and other issues important to older adults or those who plan to be older adults.

The goal of "You've Earned a Say" is to help foster an informed national discussion by offering voters information they can trust. AARP has commissioned independent experts from the Heritage Foundation, the Brookings Institution, the National Academy of Social Insurance and Avalere Health to provide information on the pros and cons of proposed Medicare and Social Security modifications. This information, along with voter guides with detailed information in candidates' own words on where they stand on important issues, is designed to help Americans have an educated voice in this critical national discussion.

Voters of all ages have a stake in the outcome of these programs. For example, 30 percent of Social Security beneficiaries are not retired but instead have disabilities or receive death benefits due to a deceased spouse or parent. Among older Californians, more than 1 million would fall into poverty without Social Security benefits.

According to the results of an AARP questionnaire completed by more than 45,000 Californians, most believe that Social Security and Medicare are in need of changes, and they want to make their voices heard -- but they don't think it will make a difference. We're pressing candidates to explain what changes they would make to ensure the long-term financial health of Medicare and Social Security -- and what effect these changes would have on current and future beneficiaries. The public must have an educated voice in this discussion, and AARP is working hard to make sure that happens.

It's these voices -- the voices of America's workers who have paid into these programs -- that the politicians should be listening to when they consider changes to Medicare and Social Security. In a razor-tight election, candidates have a major opportunity to reach key voters by speaking about their plans on Social Security and Medicare -- and they are making a huge gamble if they ignore them.

As the nation prepares for Labor Day -- a time to celebrate the strength and spirit of American workers who contribute to our nation's economic well-being every day -- candidates need to start serving up real solutions for the future of our nation. Those that have paid into these programs deserve nothing less.

To learn about the various proposals being debated in Washington, share your thoughts, and make your own decision before Election Day, visit us online at

David Pacheco is AARP's California state president and the director of California Senate fellows at Sacramento State.