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The (near) Future of Aging in America

July 19, 2017

 

In the 1976 science fiction film Logan’s Run starring Michael York and Jenny Agutter (ed. note: I had a major crush on her) society had reached the point where anyone over 30 was terminated. Some chose to try to escape, hence the title. I’m sure this was inspired by the “don’t trust anyone over 30” mantra that had gained some traction among the young baby boomers just a few years before. So no we fast forward to the present and all those boomers have or are rapidly approaching the so-called golden years. In the US, the safety net for the elderly population includes Social Security and Medicare along with other retirement savings meant to provide a secure and worry-free old age. Wrong…According to the General Accounting Office half of all Americans over the age of 55 have no retirement savings at all. The deep recession of 2008 increased only exacerbated this situation. Now couple that fact with another new reality. The rise of the so called “gig economy.” It’s speculated that 40% of all workers will be independent contractors by 2020. This means that employer contributions to social security just don’t happen. Doomsayers portend the middle class is collapsing and this will lead to pressures on already stretched social services.

 

 I don’t wish consider myself a doomsayer, but consider this…in my last blog I mentioned that medical knowledge is likely to double every 70or so days by 2020. Think of all the medical innovations that have taken place since humans first covered a cut with some moss. All of that knowledge, from band aids to stems cell therapy will double several times in a year and that could continue indefinitely. Surely this will lead to some amazing breakthroughs in the next few years. And those breakthroughs are likely to result in prolonged lifespans. The caveat is will those prolonged lifespans be available to the entire population? And at what cost? Will we have the money to pay for these treatments as funding dwindles? Will we have to resort to the “Death Panels” that Republicans in Congress claimed would be a result of the enactment of the ACA? There will be a lot of very serious issues that will need to be dealt with in the very near future when it comes to the cost and availability of life extending medicine.

 

So that’s one side of the equation. The other side deals with the social consequences of longevity. What do we do when an individual’s retirement funds run out? That is if they even have those savings to begin with. Dependence on Social Security will be dicey as the gig economy will not support the system long term. Will we see healthier 85 year olds working the gig economy to supplement their dwindling Social Security support and taking away jobs from aging Generation Xers Millennials, Generation Z and whatever designation the following generations are given? We need to be addressing these issues right now instead of deferring or putting on blinders (which we seem to do very often these days). Otherwise, in a generation or two down the road, some future politician is going to say “Hey, there’s this old movie from the last century called Logan’s Run…and it’s given me a great idea…”

 

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