Category Archives: Aging

Age, Work and “The Times They are A-Changin”

(Photo: Carpenter at Work on Douglas Dam, from Library of Congress via Flickr)

“The Times They Are A-Changin'”
by Bob Dylan
Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

Let me interrupt this musical interlude to talk about facts and data from our very own Census Bureau. What got me thinking about it is this weeks US News and World Report. They had two articles that piqued my interest “Get Ready for the Age Wave” and “Entitled Americans Don’t Get It” by Jean M. Twenge. The first article talks about how life is going to change as Baby Boomers get old and the second article is about how Social Security and Medicare are going to have to change (i.e. reduce benefits) in order to survive this Age Wave.

Lets talk about the Age Wave. First, we are experiencing a huge population increase here in the United States. Below is a graph of the Census Bureau’s US population estimate.

As you can see, we are expected to grow from about 310 million people now to about 440 million people in 40 years. Wow is what I say. Where are they going to live? What are they going to do? I’m not too worrried about that, yet.

Now, lets look at the age component of the population.

The blue line is the total population between 18 to 64 years old. The red line is the total numbers of people 65 years and older. You will notice that this segment grows from about 40 million now to over 70 million people by 2030 or about a 75% increase. The working age folks in contrast barely move. from about 195 million now to about 210 million in 2030.

Lets look at it a different way, here is the percentage breakdown of these two groups over the same time.

Now, you see what I’m a little concerned about. Those folks who are in the prime working age are going to become less and less a percentage of the population as time goes by. These men and women are the ones who traditionally paid most of the taxes plus they get to spend money raising their kids and taking care of the elders. I know these people have broad shoulders but I don’t think they are going to be able to carry the whole burden.

Something is going to have to give. They are going to have to give a lot. Despite all the political blather about “not reducing medicare benefits” and “preserving social security” sooner or later we are going to have to face facts.

I’ll tell you how I think things are going to change.

  • People are going to work longer. They days of working until your are in your mid-50’s and then going fishing or bowlling are done. I expect that if I’m able I’ll work until I’m about 70 or so. I hope that I can, I love my job and the industry I’m in..
  • We are going to see a combination of increased Social Security taxes, increased age until eligible, and means testing. Go ahead, cry on my shoulder, its ok, you’ll live. However, people already on Social Security won’t see a decrease in benefits. Go ahead, cry some more, its not fair, but hey we just can’t just strand people now can we.
  • Companies are going to have to change to handle people working longer. Younger people will pass over older people. Older folks may voluntarily step down from management positions in order to do work that is less demanding. The existing structures are going to change.
  • If Boomers can’t stay in traditional organizations then we are going to have learn to hustle up consulting, temporary, and short term jobs or maybe even start up our own small companies.
  • Our existing employer based health care system is going to change. It will have to. The existing system which everybody hated but then started loving when the Democrats started their push on health care reform will collapse under its own weight eventually because nobody, not our employers, nor employees will be able to afford it.
What gets me is that our political system is failing us right now in dealing with these changes. The impending doom of Social Security and Medicare has been known for years. Is anybody doing anything about it? No, they are not. It would be political suicide! 
So, what’s your take? Do you see any changes coming personally?