Baby boomers will now bloat ranks of elderly

May. 10, 2014 @ 05:34 PM

I know all of you who are younger than the baby boomers are beyond tired of listening to us talk about how politics, protest, movies, sex, drugs and rock and roll will never be what they were in the 1960s and ’70s.

Well, take heart. The inexorable march of time is at work.

If you are, say, a 25-year-old millennial, by the time you’re 70, we’ll be just about gone. A U. S. Census Bureau report out last week predicts that by 2060, the youngest boomers will be 96, and only 2.4 million of us will be above ground.

That should be a big improvement for everybody else, considering that when the first baby boomers turned 65 three years ago, slightly fewer than 77 million people were of baby-boom age. In 2012, we were roughly one-quarter of the population. By 2050, we’ll be less than 4 percent of it.

Of course, since we were long the largest cohort in the country’s history, with self-absorption to match, we’ll wreak a good bit more havoc on the country’s demography before we check out.

Consider the major take-away from that census bureau report:

“The United States is projected to age significantly over this period, with 20 percent of its population age 65 and over by 2030,” Jennifer Ortman, chief of the bureau’s Population Projections Branch, said in a release summarizing the findings. 

“Changes in the age structure of the U. S. population will have implications for health care services and providers, national and local policymakers, and businesses seeking to anticipate the influence that this population may have on their services, family structure and the American landscape.”

The report caught my eye. I’ve long been interested in the public-policy implications of an aging population, no doubt in part because I’m part of that trend. That’s true of all of us, of course, but it does become a bit more pronounced as those first digits in our age get higher. That’s probably why when a colleague, noticing me limping through the newsroom on primary night, hobbled by an inflamed knee, asked “what did you do to yourself,” I replied with the first thing that came to mind: “I got old.”

If you’re one of those gen-xers or millennials glad to see us heading into retirement, freeing up jobs and clearing those clogged advancement paths, though, consider this:

Today, there are about 22 people 65 or older for every 100 working-age people in the U.S. By 2030, 35 of us will be over 65 for every 100 folks still in prime working age.

Put another way, three of us will be drawing Social Security for every one of you paying into it. 

In 1940, five years after Congress created Social Security, there were about 159 workers for every beneficiary. As the retiree cohort grew, that quickly shrank to about 42 workers by 1945 and 16 by 1950.

It hit a 4-to-1 ratio in 1965 and has shrunk more gradually, but steadily, since.

Not only are there so many of us, we’re living longer. “When Social Security began in 1935, life expectancy at age 65 was 12.5 years,” the Social Security administration notes. “In 2012, it was 20.4 years for women and 17.9 years for men. By 2030, it is projected to be 21.7 for women and 19.5 years for men.”

The numbers are a reminder, as if we needed it, that we face some tricky years ahead. I know it sounds like baby-boom preoccupation, but we’ll be watching with interest how the country handles the challenges.

Bob Ashley is editor of The Herald-Sun. You can reach him at 919-419-6678 or bashley@heraldsun.com.