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What is the AARP?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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The American Association of Retired Persons is now known exclusively by its acronym, AARP. This is because membership is not limited to those who are retired, and as is frequently the case, many people over the age of 50 continue to work. The AARP defines itself as a non-profit and non-partisan group for people over the age of 50, but has been plagued with accusations that it does lobby for the passage of laws, like the 2003 Medicare Prescription Act, which may not always be in the best interest of all of its members. There are over 30 million members of the AARP, which makes it one of the largest nonprofit membership organizations in the US.

The founding of the AARP was inspired by the National Retired Teachers Association (NRTA), which was established in 1947 by Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus. With the NRTA, Andrus sought to address some of the problems of retiring teachers, especially concerns about health insurance, and the tendency for retirees to feel displaced after leaving work. Andrus had numerous theories on productive aging, and was especially concerned about the small pensions allotted to teachers. The NRTA and its large membership group allowed Andrus to approach large health insurance companies and finally find companies that would be willing to cover retired teachers at minimal cost.

Through the 1950s, Andrus began to realize that issues regarding pension and health insurance were not exclusive to teachers. Having small pensions challenged many workers in many fields, making life very difficult. Thus the AARP was created to welcome retirees from all occupations, provided they were 50 or older, and in the late 20th century, the AARP welcomed any American over the age of 50, retired or not.

The AARP has had some significant criticism, and investigation into its nonprofit status. Some critics stated that the AARP had become no better than a broker for various insurance companies. Such accusations were enough to warrant government investigation into the organization’s status in the 1990s. These investigations did not reveal sufficient evidence to change the organization, and since the AARP is classed as a 501c4 nonprofit, lobbying is permitted under federal law.

In addition to offering or endorsing certain insurance plans to retirees, the AARP has proven especially beneficial to its members by negotiating discounts for seniors or its members. Reduced rates for travel, air flight, hotel stays, and discounts in retail stores, restaurants and theaters can help a retired person on a smaller income still fully participate in leisure activities. The AARP also publishes a bi-monthly magazine, called AARP: The Magazine, which tends to address the problems common to those over 50, and offers social or political suggestions to its members.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a PublicPeople contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon928054 — On Jan 27, 2014

I am concerned about AARP's lack of leadership on hearing aid issues. Hearing aids are covered by almost no insurance. There was an effort to get them covered through the ACA (Obamacare), but it failed. Why? I would be really interested in knowing what AARP has done on this, since they have a money-making alliance with a hearing aid company.

The average income of senior households is about $29,000 and hearing aids cost between $1500-$2500 apiece (and more). Also I get sick of them saying they are "impartial" when all they do is feature Democrats in their magazines.

By anon352609 — On Oct 24, 2013

It is not non-profit nor leftist. Check online. There are a lot of people in the world who try to politicize simple questions.

By anon278431 — On Jul 06, 2012

If it sounds too good to be true, run from it. AARP is making money for themselves by endorsing products and services.

By anon164343 — On Mar 31, 2011

AARP is losing the blind trust many members because of its leftist political stance. A newspaper account states some of their executives are being paid in the seven figure range.

By anon137805 — On Dec 29, 2010

Wow. Unbelievable. most comments sound like these people have rushitis. I wish we had a lobby to protect the rights of the increasing elders. we need plans to care for us at home and not in nursingh omes (another big bus.) Who is attending to this? If caring for people is leaning left then let me lean.

By anon134302 — On Dec 14, 2010

I totally agree with many of the statements given. This company drives me crazy with its commercials. Then it backs Obama's health plan give away, and takes away from seniors. It is ridiculous that if they have so much money to flood the market with commercials out there, then why charge for a "Non-Profit Organization" It is another scam.

The Attorney General needs to look into them. Seniors reading this wise up if you do not already, understand this administration wants you to lose medicaid benefits. It is sad. My father passed recently. He believed all the left wing rhetoric, and I never had an opportunity to change his mind. The democratic party has more money and back handed deals like this one then one can imagine. They have fooled the American public for decades. What a shame! I turn the channel when I here an AARP commercial. What a scam!

By anon83790 — On May 12, 2010

non-profit means that the aarp life insurance company puts the money back into the company, i.e., all profits go back into the company. the problem is it's usually to increase the pay of the execs.

By anon76207 — On Apr 09, 2010

It takes money to give back to people through volunteers, and raising money. Look at Goodwill and their high prices. The money goes back into the company and helps many people and we all have wondered about it, but we don't attack them. People have no problem donating there tax write off donations to Goodwill. Goodwill competing with Kmart, walmart etc. (they sell and market as well).

I am in my 30s and have found AARP as an advocate for this generation like no other. To make a difference on a big scale it takes money to run the administration and to give back etc. I believe AARP just had small town chapters years ago and has grown because of the volunteers dedication and belief in AARP mission and goals. That is impressive and successfully done through volunteers, donations, and yes, marketing.

It takes money to send people to lobby on our behalf. I am not aware of anyone else stepping up on this kind of scale. I support their mission and goal, and that is just what they are doing.

There is enough red tape already. Spend energy toward making a difference in this world. Don't waste the energy on attacking someone else's achievements. What a shame!

Let's see your time, dedication and money where your mouth is and put it to better use helping others.

By anon74211 — On Mar 31, 2010

Nonprofit? with a 30 million members? and charging a minimum of $16.00 a membership? who's packing the money? It doesn't appear to be a nonprofit.

By anon58511 — On Jan 02, 2010

They have to charge to pay for their magazines and newspaper. That stuff costs money. Unless you are willing to donate all that money to them, stop crying.

By anon42009 — On Aug 18, 2009

There are too many companies like this that get a non-profit status and then just make money and don't pay taxes.

AARP is predominately an insurance company now. It competes with a lot of others who pay taxes!

By anon40948 — On Aug 11, 2009

In recent days we've seen AARP cancelling meetings to stifle legitimate discussion, trampling on the First Amendment rights of American citizens who have issues with President Obama's health care reform plan.

By anon40658 — On Aug 10, 2009

Of course AARP is following the "ObamaNation Plan", after all AARP is a direct off-shoot of the NRTA.

Academics are one of the most verifiable left leaning group in the ObamaNation arsenal.

By anon38915 — On Jul 29, 2009

AARP does not represent seniors and it has sold out seniors on the Obama health care bill. Just the "counseling" requirement is disgusting. The "pain pill" comment was revealing.

By anon30711 — On Apr 23, 2009

If you're non-profit, why charge?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a PublicPeople contributor, Tricia...
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