Surge in Seniors Strains Economy and Caregivers

Republicans thought people could save for it. Democrats thought government could provide it. Both are wrong. Caring for an aging population is beginning to strain our economy and stress out a rising legion of caregivers.

Political parties have taken turns over the past 50 years controlling government and they have both failed to solve the problem. Now we are stuck in neutral and rolling backwards.

By 2020, forty-three states will see an increase of over 70 percent in their 65 and over population compared with just 20 years earlier. And 29 states will see an increase of 70 percent in their 85 and over population during the same period. In fact, only 1 state, Arkansas, will see an increase of less than 50 percent in both the 65- and 85 and older demographics.

This is an amazing success story in longevity, but a problem that the government, our friends and neighbors, and the economy is unprepared to absorb.

First of all, nearly all retirement and health care projections are based on a working population capable of supporting older residents. Unfortunately the percentage of working age adults is decreasing. In 2010, 60 percent of the U.S. is aged 20-64. By 2030, the proportion of these working ages will drop to 55 percent. The age dependency ratio, the proportion of seniors to workers, will almost double over the next 20 years — from 21 per 100 workers to 39.

This “silver tsunami” is also creating a legion of people caring for adults and the elderly. Twenty-nine percent of the U.S. adult population, or 65.7 million people, are caregivers, including 31 percent of all households. These caregivers provide an average of 20 hours of care per week.

American caregivers are predominantly female (66%) and are an average of 48 years old. That puts working Baby Boomers in their prime working years balancing a career with caring for aging parents and raising their own children. The sandwich generation, as this group had been called, often reduces the number of hours they work. An even greater number continues to work but loses focus and becomes more stressed. For employers this translates to lower productivity, more accidents and mistakes, and the loss of talent.

As the aging tsunami breaks on the shores of our economy, new challenges will alter the workplace landscape. Political parties are clearly divided on how to fix the problems. Solutions will come from individuals and local communities. Employers that recognize opportunity in this sea of change will reap the benefits as our workforce and nation grows older.

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