The Looming Problem of an Aging America

The number of seniors is growing in the U.S. Coupled with lower birth rates, the population is rapidly getting older. In just 10 years, the number of people over the age of 65 will comprise 20 percent of the nation’s population.

Longer Lives

American seniors are living longer and healthier lives. Life expectancy has lengthened by 10 years since the 1940s. Advances in medicine as well as more informed lifestyle choices have made almost every disease and condition treatable or at least manageable. Medical institutions have devoted significant portions of their research into senior-centric issues — leading to a better understanding of ailments that plague the older generations. The rising number of seniors has made retirement homes, as well as home care franchises, very successful — prompting entrepreneurs and big corporations to focus on the aging demographic.

Fewer Births

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The birth rate is another significant factor in determining the age of a population. With birth rates dropping close to all-time lows, there are fewer children to balance the population. Birth rates in the US are particularly alarming, as couples are opting to have only one child — dropping birth rates to below replacement levels. The population imbalance is particularly obvious in the workplace. The median age of American workers stands at 43 or even higher in several industries. In the trucking industry, most drivers are over the age of 55 — which could lead to serious driver shortages in the next few years.

Social Security Problems

The growing senior population — coupled with the shrinking workforce — has put a strain on Social Security. As birthrates drop below replacement level, the workforce shrinks as the succeeding generations become fewer and fewer. Savings accrued since the 40s reached almost $3 trillion in the 80s — but the changes in population have been slowly depleting it. Experts believe Social Security’s funds will be largely depleted by 2035 — leaving retirees reliant on the contribution of the existing workforce for their benefits. Benefits and payments are predicted to be cut by 20-30 percent, cutting almost $500 from the usual monthly payments of $1,800.

Moving Forward

Little can be done about the aging demographics. The U.S. might need a sociocultural shift towards having more children, and the government is doing very little to encourage it. Several states are proposing raising the retirement age or work systems that allow people over the age of 65 to continue working — albeit in a limited capacity. The few extra years of working can bring in more revenue to social systems as well as delay the need for pensions.

However, delaying retirement is merely a temporary solution and would continue for generations unless there is a shift in the composition of the population. The government needs to encourage people to have two or more children by doing more on the childcare front and by providing bigger tax breaks for families with kids.

As the aging population continues to grow, stress on social security and medical systems increase to unsustainable levels. The population pyramid can only be righted with more births, and with fewer children — the future is bleak.

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