(This is a continuation of our blog post of a week ago)
In our previous column we discussed widely held concerns about the effects a growing elderly population will have on the American economy and overall quality of life. These columns are inspired by the December 2012 issue of Population Connection’s The Reporter magazine entitled “Population Aging and the U.S. Economy.”
In a few decades the so-called dependency population—those younger than 18 and those of retirement age—will begin to grow. American society must consider now what can be done by an enlightened people to both control population growth and provide for a balanced and robust economy.
Demographers believe that the combination of population aging and the likelihood that less-educated and lesser-skilled racial and ethnic minorities will make up an ever-larger proportion of the workforce could result in shortages of skilled workers and overall U.S. underperformance. It would not serve the United States well to be eclipsed by economic competitors.
With the handwriting already on the wall, what can a hoped-for enlightened, conciliatory, and progressive society and body politic do to assure a robust economy and healthy populous?
Here are some notions that address these issues:
1. We must invest in ourselves. Specifically, we need to stop thinking about how low we can drive our tax burden, and revert to the once-successful philosophy of getting value for our tax dollars. The expensive post-World War II GI Bill of Rights was one of the most successful economic programs in American history. It educated a generation of Americans as never before. Those who received college degrees paid back their country’s investment in them many times over. By investing in bootstrap programs for minority populations we may be able to attain comparable goals.
2. Whether the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (yeah, “Obamacare” – we’re not using that term in order to detour around the inherent political ramifications) will be an improvement over our existing health care “system” remains to be seen. But at its most successful, it would still not be enough. We must instead consider what the most efficient system can be without regard to insurance company profits. America must invest in efficiencies and growing the number of healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, and support professionals. If this means increasing taxes dedicated for those purposes, so be it. Medicare and Medicaid are not charities. They are prerequisites for a modern industrialized society that believes in social justice.
3. Raise the age for retirement. Social Security and Medicare were not designed as employment bonuses. Their original intent was to give the elderly a cushion; a bulwark against destitute old age. In 1935, when Social Security was introduced, the life expectancy for men was 60. For women it was 64. Today those numbers are 76 and 81 respectively. Yet we have raised the eligibility age for full retirement benefits by only two years since Social Security’s inception. Do the math. And we have a long way to go to catch up with the 32 countries ahead of us with longer life expectancies. Tweaking the combination of higher Social Security taxes and a higher retirement age will help bring us back in balance. And, who knows, it might even keep our seniors more robust by working at age-appropriate jobs as they age.
4. This is more hope than certainty. If the economy returns to its former vigor, there may be a need to hire older citizens in order meet demand. “Older employees who wish to keep working may demand flexible roles and schedules. Allowing more part-time work and telecommuting will entice older workers to stay on, extending their careers,” say Professors Clarence James Gamble and Jay W. Lorsch of Harvard in The Reporter.
5. We part company with Lorsch and Gamble, however, on philosophical grounds when it comes to immigration. They make the case that a large portion of immigrants are of working age, and that, “liberalizing immigration policy, especially for skilled immigrants, could provide a further boost to the size and quality of the U.S. workforce.” This remedy for economic problems entails a Pandora’s box of consequences. It ignores the reality that the United States is the world’s biggest glutton. We Americans consume energy and natural resources like nobody’s business. Is our polluting, energy-sucking, disposable-goods, natural-resource and renewable-resource over-consuming population really something we want to grow through immigration? While an immigration-based economic boost may be good for the economy in the short haul, should we really be the overflow drain (although somewhat limited) for the populations of other countries?
More than Enough of Us populate the United States now. Piling on is not one of the solutions we should add to the mix. A healthier Earth should be the most immediate issue on the world agenda. It is the greatest threat to our planet in so many ways. Increasing our population to sustain our economy is the ultimate Ponzi scheme. Someone would be left holding the bag. And it’s not our current populace.