Debra Whitman, PhD, is an economist and expert on aging issues. As Chief Public Policy Officer for AARP, she and her teams develop global policy and research insights and solutions that help communities, lawmakers, and the private sector improve our lives as we age.
Debra has extensive experience in national policymaking and domestic and international research. As an economist, she is a strategic thinker whose life’s work has been devoted to solving problems and improving the systems that impact us all as we age.
As staff director for the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, Debra worked across the aisle to increase retirement security, lower the cost of health care, protect vulnerable seniors, safeguard consumers, make the pharmaceutical industry more transparent, and improve our nation’s long term care system.
Before that, she worked for the Congressional Research Service as a specialist in the economics of aging. She provided members of Congress and their staff with research and advice, and authored analytical reports on the economic impacts of policies affecting older Americans.
From 2001 to 2003, Debra served as a Brookings LEGIS Fellow to the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, working as a health policy adviser to Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Earlier in her career, she conducted research on savings and retirement for the Social Security Administration. Debra is a writer and public speaker, a mom, and an advocate for those whose voices need to be heard. Follow her at @policydeb.
Areas of Expertise (24)
Elder financial exploitation
Health care financing
Long-term care policy
Long-term services and supports
Prescription drug pricing
Syracuse University, Maxwell School: Ph.D., Economics 1997
Syracuse University, Maxwell School: M.A., Economics 1997
Gonzaga University: B.A., Economics 1992
Media Appearances (8)
Let’s Talk About Ageism
Debra Whitman, executive vice president and chief public policy officer at AARP, agrees. “Ageism is sneaky. It will affect every single one of us, but we also put it on ourselves,” she says. “We say negative things about aging all the time. So it’s really part of our culture and our mindset—and that’s damaging.” In other words, we reinforce the very stereotypes that hurt us even after we become part of the affected group.
‘There is more work to be done:’ Rep. Kevin Brady on the economic recovery
Yahoo! Finance online
Yahoo Finance’s Alexis Christoforous and Shai Akabas, the Director of Economic Policy, BPC, speak with Rep. Kevin Brady, Rob Falzon, Vice Chair, Prudential Financial, and Debra Whitman, Executive Vice President and Chief Public Policy Officer at AARP.
Employers Called on to Retain Older Workers
Debra Whitman, executive vice president at AARP, said, “It is important that when we say ‘age-friendly,’ we mean all age friendly—that is meeting the diversity of all of your employees and their needs. Women have children and take maternity leave. Many people are caregivers for parents or relatives. Employers need to think more broadly about the care needs of workers in an inclusive environment.”
No rest for the graying
Harvard Gazette online
Berkman was joined at the event — “The Aging Workforce: Challenges and Benefits for the Public’s Health” — by Francine Grodstein, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School; Debra Whitman, chief public policy officer for AARP; and Christina Matz-Costa, a senior research associate at the Center on Aging & Work at Boston College. Chris Arnold of National Public Radio moderated the discussion...
AARP: What's wrong with Social Security COLAs
USA Today online
For decades, benefits rose only when Congress enacted special legislation. It wasn't until 1975 that automatic annual cost-of-living allowances (COLAs) kicked in. AARP Chief Public Policy Officer Debra Whitman answers some frequently asked questions on how they work.
For Widows, Social Security System Can Provide Rude Shocks
The New York Times online
Even though the amount is not large, it is an indispensable source of income for most widows. Without Social Security, said Debra B. Whitman, AARP’s chief policy officer, “data show that at age 85, some 46 percent of widows would be living in poverty.”
Generic Drug Prices Dropping More Slowly According to AARP Report
“Declining generic drug prices have helped many Americans’ pocketbooks, particularly older adults on fixed incomes,” said Debra Whitman, PhD, AARP Executive Vice President for Policy. “Unfortunately, recent trends indicate that we may not be able to rely on these savings forever.”...
Statement by Debra Whitman, AARP Executive Vice President on IOM Cognitive Aging Research Report
Debra Whitman, AARP’s Chief Public Policy Officer, said the research is welcome news for AARP’s 38 million members who say that staying mentally sharp is one of their top health concerns. In a recent AARP survey, 93%of respondents noted that brain health was very or extremely important, but few knew the ways that they could support their brain health...
Featured Articles (9)
Women caregivers power America’s economy. It’s time to support themFast Company
2021 With little outside support, millions of women provide essential care for their kids, aging spouses, parents, and other adults with disabilities. But the COVID-19 pandemic highlights that their cost-free service is attached to a big price tag, especially for women and the health of the economy ...
The Women’s Wealth Gap Glares Harsher than Ever, So It’s Time to Close ItNext City
2021 The pandemic has crystalized—in the glaring sort of way—our country’s contradictions. One of them: The dueling demands we put on women to care for others and work without relief, all the while denied fair wages, benefits and other opportunities to achieve economic well-being for themselves and their families ...
Singapore: An Island Nation with a Big Vision for AgingAARP International
2020 "..what Singapore lacks in space it makes up in vision — an expansive vision for inclusion and proper support that considers its whole population, even as the nation navigates its own changing demographic and economic realities." ...
COVID-19 has laid bare the cracks in long-term care. Here's how to fix themWorld Economic Forum
2020 As early as February, it was clear that individuals at highest risk for severe disease and death from COVID-19 included people over 60 and those with underlying conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease ...
Building Lifetime Middle-Class SecurityWashington, DC: AARP Public Policy Institute
2013 AARP hears daily from members across the nation who are struggling to maintain a toehold on the basics of middle-class security—a job, a modest pension, an affordable home, health insurance. In response to our members' concerns and to address the implications of ...
Retirement savings: how much will workers have when they retire?Policy Archive
2007 Over the past 25 years, an important change has occurred in the structure of employer-sponsored retirement plans in the private sector. Although the percentage of the workforce who participate in employer-sponsored retirement plans has remained ...
Topics in aging: Income and poverty among older Americans in 2005Cornell University
2006 Older Americans are an economically diverse group. In 2005, the median income of individuals age 65 and older was $15,523, but incomes varied widely around this average. Twenty-seven percent of Americans 65 or older had incomes of less than ...
Topics in aging: Income of Americans age 65 and older, 1969 to 2004Policy Archive
2006 The aging of the American population and the retirement of the baby boom generation will place financial strains on Social Security, public and private pensions, and on retirees' personal savings. Since the 1960s, birth rates have fallen and average life ...
Income and poverty among older AmericansBenefits Quarterly
2006 Older Americans are an economically diverse group. This article describes the sources and amounts of income received by the 35.2 million Americans aged 65 and older living in the community in 2004, as reported in the March 2005 Current Population Survey ...