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.