The Aging Population: Economic Growth and Global Competitiveness

February 13, 2012
Audience Members Listen to President Obama

On Tuesday, February 14, the Council on Foreign Relations is holding a meeting on the "The U.S. Aging Population as an Economic Growth Driver for Global Competitiveness." The event is timely. Standard & Poor's reports that "No other force is likely to shape the future of national economic health, public finances and policy-making as the irreversible rate at which the world"s population is aging."

Hence, it's vital that we create opportunities to enable older persons to contribute to their economies and communities in increasingly effective and productive ways. This will require new policies and innovations that promote healthy aging, including advances in medicine, continued learning, and cultural norms regarding aging. As population aging is elevated to the global agenda, the countries that capitalize on the increasing percentage of older adults, and are able to increasingly facilitate their meaningful contributions, will secure a strategic and competitive advantage in the years to come.

Consider the demographic facts: In the United States, 77 million Baby Boomers -- born from 1946 through 1964 -- are beginning to transition into retirement. In addition to increasing the strain on government-sponsored programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, the retirement of this large group of Americans could also create significant losses in productivity as well as specialized skills upon which many of our companies depend.

The United States is not alone in the challenge and opportunity of population aging. By 2050, more than two billion people worldwide will be over the age of 60. By then, for the first time in human history, more people will be over the age of 60 than under 15. Life-spans have increased an incredible three decades in the past one hundred years and disability rates have been declining. The science of health promotion and risk factor reduction, coupled with advancements in medicine, have made it possible for a large percentage of the population to live out their lives in functional and productive ways. Longevity and health, however, are only part of the equation. As more people worldwide enter their traditional retirement years, the dependency ratio (i.e., the number of retirees per worker) will skyrocket requiring prudent review of twentieth century retirement models.

Providing opportunities for continued contribution by an aging population is an economic imperative in a growing number of countries, both developing and developed nations. This is a new challenge for developing country governments, especially in Latin America and Asia, which over the past few decades have experienced a significant drop in fertility and death rates. That's why the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) has declared economic success to be a function of the health and productivity of APEC's Member Economies' aging populations. This declaration is supported by other global organizations also working to turn aging into an opportunity. Indeed, the European Union has launched 2012 as its year of Active and Healthy Aging. And the World Health Organization (WHO) has begun an Age-Friendly Cities Program and is dedicating 2012 World Health Day to aging populations.

Equally significant is the global health community's new focus on age-related health challenges, called non communicable diseases (NCDs), such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, cancer and diabetes. A WHO Resolution calling on governments to "strengthen NCD policies to promote active aging" will be at the center of this year's World Health Assembly in May. This work is an important sign that aging is now beginning to occupy a critical and rightful place on the international agenda.

We need a focused, society-wide effort to transform our vision of aging from a time of dependency to a time of continued growth, contribution, and social and economic participation. Older adults have a wealth of experience and much to contribute. We need a sea-change not just in policies, but in attitudes about what it means to grow old. We must break the stereotype that to be old is to be inactive or dependent, and in so doing turn "population aging" into the century's greatest achievement.

Collaborating with our private sector and global partners is a path to sharing strategies and solutions to the truly global phenomenon of population aging. On the government side, an important step will be to broaden the base of collaboration on aging populations to include not only health, but also economic, finance and trade portfolios. Working together, we can turn the longevity bequeathed us from the twentieth century into a positive driver of growth, contribution and economic activity in the twenty-first.



United States
February 14, 2012

Bob in the U.S.A. writes:

Here is what happened when this government "collaborated" with the private sector in order to relocate our factory jobs to China:

#1 Back in the 1950s, Detroit was a teeming metropolis of approximately 2 million people. According to the 2010 census, only 713,000 people live in Detroit today. The U.S. Census Bureau says that Detroit lost a resident every 22 minutes during the first decade of this century. People don’t want to live where the stench of failure and decay is constantly in the air.

#2 When the economy falls apart, desperate people will do desperate things and many homeowners will fight back. Justifiable homicide in Detroit rose by a staggering 79 percent during 2011.

#3 In major cities where people are scrambling just to survive, any confrontation can quickly escalate into a life or death affair. The rate of self-defense killings in Detroit is currently 2200% above the national average.

#4 When there is not enough money to go around, a lot of local governments will choose to cut back on police protection. Ten years ago, there were approximately 5,000 police for the city of Detroit. Today, there are less than 3,000.

#5 The essential social services that you are enjoying today will not always be there in the future. Officials in Detroit recently announced that due to budget constraints, all police stations will be closed to the public for 16 hours a day.

#6 Economic decay is a breeding ground for chaos and violence. Last Friday and Saturday, a total of nine shootings were reported in the city of Detroit.

#7 More Americans than ever are realizing the benefits of buying guns for self-defense. The following is what 73-year-old Julia Brown recently told the Daily….

The last time Brown, 73, called the Detroit police, they didn’t show up until the next day. So she applied for a permit to carry a handgun and says she’s prepared to use it against the young thugs who have taken over her neighborhood, burglarizing entire blocks, opening fire at will and terrorizing the elderly with impunity.

#8 When crime gets go bad that the police are powerless to stop it, vigilante groups begin to form….

In fact, crime has gotten so bad and the citizens are so frustrated by the lack of police assistance that they have resorted to forming their own organizations to fight back. One group, known as “Detroit 300″, was formed after a 90-year-old woman on Detroit’s northwest side was brutally raped in August.

#9 When criminals become desperate, they will steal literally anything that is not bolted down. In Detroit today, thieves have stripped so much copper wiring out of the street lights that half of all the lights in some neighborhoods no longer work.

#10 As things fall apart, eventually a time comes when it is not even safe to drive down the road in the middle of the day. 100 bus drivers in Detroit recently refused to drive their routes out of fear of being attacked on the streets. The head of the bus drivers union, Henry Gaffney, said that the drivers were literally “scared for their lives“….

“Our drivers are scared, they’re scared for their lives. This has been an ongoing situation about security. I think yesterday kind of just topped it off, when one of my drivers was beat up by some teenagers down in the middle of Rosa Parks and it took the police almost 30 minutes to get there, in downtown Detroit,” said Gaffney.

#11 One of the clearest signs of decline in America is the state of our education system. Only 25 percent of all students in Detroit end up graduating from high school. Many other major cities will soon have graduation rates similar to Detroit.

#12 When local governments run out of money they are forced to make tough choices. After already shutting down dozens of schools, officials in Detroit have announced plans to close down 16 more schools.

#13 A growing percentage of Americans cannot even read or write. This is a very frightening indication of what the future of America could look like. According to one stunning report, 47 percent of all people living in the city of Detroit are functionally illiterate.

#14 Sadly, child poverty is absolutely exploding all over the United States. Today, 53.6 percent of all children that live in Detroit are living below the poverty line.

#15 The employment situation in America is a lot worse than the government is telling us. An analysis of census figures found that 48.5% of all men living in Detroit from age 20 to age 64 did not have a job in 2008.

#16 When a major city becomes a hellhole, home prices fall like a rock. The median price of a home in Detroit is now just $6000.

#17 When crime and looting become commonplace, homes in an area can become absolutely worthless. Some homes in Detroit have been sold for a single dollar. As of a few years ago, there were more than 40,000 vacant properties in the city of Detroit.


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