I'm sure it's no shock to you to learn that people nowadays are working well into what used to be retirement age. In a continuing reversal of a 1980s trend of taking an early exit from the workforce, a Pew Research Center report shows that the number of those older than 65 now holding a job reached 18.8 percent this year. This is up from 12.8 percent of the workforce in 2000 and now accounts for nearly a third of all seniors.
The reason for this trend is complex. Certainly the fact that there are fewer people on fixed pensions today, the fact that Social Security alone doesn't provide economic stability anymore, and that a shockingly high number of people at retirement age have no savings are all factors. But there is clearly something else going on.
According to the Pew Research Center report, during the past 16 years employment rose not only among 65 to 69-year olds, but also among those seniors 70 to 74. The 75-plus population still working has increased to 8.4 percent during that time.
In many instances, it seems that people are working longer — some much longer — simply because they can.
Americans' living longer and staying increasingly active and productive should be seen as a welcome sign for our country. Yet as a society we focus little if at all on these folks. According to the American Psychological Society, our view of "old age" has not always kept up with the reality of older Americans' health or the fact that while many people over the age of 65 experience some limitations, they learn to live with them and lead happy and productive lives.
The entry into "senior" membership in this country is rarely looked at as something to be celebrated. "Over the Hill" novelty items have long been a thriving industry — from gift boxes featuring prune juice and anti-aging soap, to birthday cards mocking the mobility, intellect and sex drive of the no-longer-young. It's good for a laugh. Others see it differently; as a sign of the need for a deep-rooted change in society's view of aging. As, in a society so captivated by youth culture, a form of dismissing a club that they, if they're lucky enough, may one day be a member.
By 2060, people 65 and older will constitute one in every four U.S. residents, roughly 98.2 million people. Of this number, 19.7 million will be 85 or older. Accurate information and continued and accelerated research on the aging process are critical as we age as a population. We also cannot forget about the mass of reinforcements on the way. According to Baby Boomer Magazine, every eight seconds a Baby Boomer in this country turns 50.
According to the American Geriatrics Society, only about 10 percent of U.S. medical schools require work in geriatric medicine. As the oldest of an estimated 77 million baby boomers approach their 60s, the elderly and their concerns can be expected to inevitably move higher on the national agenda. According to John Rother, policy director for the AARP, a major change on the perception of aging is on the way.
"It will be more visible," Rother told the Associated Press in 2004. "People will survive longer, in better health. ... They'll feel the market should cater to them, the political system should cater to them, as it has their whole lives."
"The Boomers, as a generation, were the single most important economic force of the past 70 years," adds Charles Sizemore, chief investment officer of Sizemore Capital Management in Dallas. As more Boomers cross the line into senior citizenship, Sizemore believes that this powerful shift in demographics will reshape America's society and economy.
Still, others have more apocalyptic predictions, especially as it relates to our health care system. Many predict the surge in demand for medical care associated with the aging population will so strain our resources that future generations will face permanently higher inflation, higher taxes — or both.
Yet despite much of the gloominess surrounding the aging of the boomer generation, many in the medical research field find reasons to be optimistic. Based on a theory that it is aging itself that causes chronic ailments, health care could be on the cusp of major advancements in how it treats older patients. The development of new care models that combine advances in technology are also occurring. Many medical experts believe that new, more efficient care models and the improvements in technology and in care itself may increase health care's supply capacity enough to offset the extra demand created by the boomers.
Researchers also are achieving some early successes in trying to increase the time that people can live relatively healthy — known as health spans — rather than simply prolonging life. And, at the end of the day, isn't that what it's all about?
We need to get behind these efforts, because the alternative — a health care apocalypse — is no alternative at all. So, welcome aboard baby boomers. We can use your help.
But then, why wait? The percentage of citizens 65 and older who reported casting a ballot in the last presidential election was 72 percent. We may not have the public will to change perceptions and policies when it comes to aging, but we already have the numbers. And the clock is ticking.
In the time it took you to read this, just think of the number of baby boomers that turned 50.
Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: Petras Gagilas