The Silver Tsunami — a Good News/Bad News Story
It is an indisputable fact – we are living longer. In the revolutionary times, the average life expectancy was only 35 years. Today, the baby boomer generation has added over 40 years to that number. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists life expectancy at 78.7 years with seniors being the fastest growing population in the world.
This shift in aging trends brings with it significant challenges. As a culture, we must reevaluate housing, social security, health care and employment largely because we are living longer. Consider some of the national issues associated with the graying of America.
The Senior Boom
The increase in the elderly population is not limited to the United States – it is a worldwide phenomenon, but why are people living longer? The most logical answer is the advance in medical science. Back in the 1700s, epidemics wiped out entire towns, and many women died giving birth. Add to that an increase in occupational safety and better diets; it is not hard to see why life expectancy is growing.
The Administration on Aging predicts by the year 2050, 2 billion Americans will be over the age of 60 – outnumbering children for the first time in history.
The Silver Tsunami
So, what are all these older people doing with their time? Many are continuing to work. The CDC predicts that by 2020, 25 percent of the labor pool will be over the age of 55 – 15 years ago, that number was just 13 percent. Currently, 16.7 percent of people over the age of 65 continue to work.
The repercussions of an aging workforce will undoubtedly be a shortage of skilled labor. More and more people staying on the job longer mean that they will all retire right around the same time. This Silver Tsunami brings fewer jobs for younger candidates. Taxation of young workers is the heart of the social security system. With a diminished entry-level workforce, that system takes a hit.
Aging and Healthcare
A growing senior population increases the need for geriatric care, as well. Older adults deal with chronic disease such as diabetes and high blood pressure. The healthcare industry can expect a surge in the need for geriatricians, nurses and physical therapists. Seniors increase the demand for medications, as well.
It’s a Good News/Bad News Saga
While it is true that a growing senior population may have a negative effect on the workforce and healthcare, it is hard to see living longer as a bad thing. This flux in life expectancy means that people are paying more attention to their health. Older age structures reflect an improvement in infant mortality rates and health care in general.
Aging is only a problem if society fails to meet the needs of the culture. The nation will go through some adjustments, and society will develop new policies. This growth is the plus side of the Silver Tsunami, because nothing forces change as much as the need to adapt. As the baby boomer generation turns gray, senior advocacy groups such as AARP will help shape the political process to improve the quality of life for people of all ages.