I was employed at the national headquarters of AARP in Washington, DC from 1995 through 2006 in their communications and outreach operations. These views and opinions that I express here are mine alone and do not necessarily align with the views and opinions of AARP.
The very short history of how AARP got started is this:
In Los Angeles during the 1950s, the first female high school principal (Ethel Percy Andrus) during her retirement formed an organization (the National Retired Teachers Association) to help make it possible for teachers to buy life insurance by spreading the risk of insurance payouts to a large pool of people.
That risk pool approach generated a lot of revenue from the sales of life insurance to teachers. An affiliated organization known as the American Association of Retired Persons was formed to make possible the sales of life insurance beyond teachers. That is how the abbreviation AARP came to be.
What is AARP today?
Over the decades, AARP became much more than an organization to make possible life insurance sales. Andrus became known as an elder rights activist. She ultimately established AARP in the District of Columbia half-way between the White House and Congress to focus upon lobbying of the executive and legislative branches in elder rights issues. What had once been an insurance sales operation morphed into national advocacy on behalf of the quality of life for elder citizens.
The primary reason why some consider AARP lacks credibility and is therefore deemed to be a “scam” is the simple adherence to partisan politics. While AARP members (people over 50) are said to split more or less equally into three groups—independents, Democrats, and Republicans, the people who manage and work at AARP tend to support federal approaches for elder citizens that typically have been favored and supported by the Democratic Party.
It was Democrat Franklin Roosevelt, the 32nd US president, who signed the federal Social Security program into law back in 1935. From the days of FDR to today, Republicans consistently have opposed Social Security in particular and any federal government support for caring for elder citizens. Republican George W. Bush, the 43rd US president, in 2003 signed into law changes in the federal Medicare program to pay for prescription drugs for elder citizens, which AARP supported. That challenged one traditional partisan political view that only the Democratic Party cares about elder citizens.
If you can free your mind from partisan political filters you will be able to evaluate AARP clearly and accurately.