A perk of working in the field of aging is awareness of population shifts. Through the 20th century, advances in medicine and improvement in working conditions increased life expectancy dramatically. Flash forward to today and you see the aging and retirement of baby boomers as the leading edge of what’s sometimes called a “silver tsunami”; Americans turning 65 at the rate of 10,000 per day.
More people are living to advanced age than ever before, with those in their 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond becoming the fastest growing segments of society. Jump ahead a few decades in demographic predictions and you see the result of this shift: a fairly even distribution of ages across the population. In other words, there will be relatively equal numbers of the people in different age groups across the life span.
Focus down to Michigan right now and you’ll find Michigan’s population is “aging” faster than the rest of the nation. Why? Three trends are often cited.
First, economic problems over the past few decades have sent young people looking for opportunities elsewhere, a trend compounded by the recession of 2008-12. Second, younger immigrants have settled and started families in other parts of the country, mainly the south, a boon to that area. And third, Michigan’s relatively lower cost of living entices seniors to stay put rather than move to other destinations in retirement.
As community planners and economic developers do their job, of course we must work to entice young people to stay rather than move away. What we should not do is present the aging of our population as a negative trend or problem. It is not. In fact, it may be our saving grace.
A 2013 Oxford Economics Study found “… the older adults in the Baby Boom Generation are less of an economic drain on society than they are a booster.” Chris Farrell, a journalist, author and regular contributor to NPR’s Marketplace comments, “Americans are no longer retiring in the traditional sense, which remains a largely unappreciated fact.”
This is particularly true when it comes to labor-force issues. Why? Two growing trends coming from our longevity have significant impact.
Many won’t have enough resources to support decades of retirement and will have to continue working. The shift from defined benefits received through a set pension plan to defined contribution plans shifted risk to the individual. As recession and economic trends worsened, many saw their investments shrink dramatically. Many have not saved. The Government Accountability Office estimates that in 2016, about 48 percent of households aged 55 and older had no retirement savings.
On the other hand, overall, retirees are healthier and better educated than in the past. Many with adequate finances will be looking for means to reconnect. Realization that doing nothing, taking a dream vacation, or tackling a long-awaited project isn’t enough to fill decades of life. We thrive on purpose and productivity.
Chris Farrell’s new book, “Purpose and a Paycheck,” underscores the willingness of this sector to re-enter the labor-force across a broad array of jobs, as well as explore entrepreneurship and self-employment, often creating jobs as they go.
He points out that labor-force participation of men aged 60 and older rose nearly a third to 35 percent in 2014, while labor-force participation of women aged 60 and over rose 66 percent. In 2016, 25.5 percent of new business ventures were launched by people aged 55-64.
There’s a shortage of workers on many fronts. Communities with considerable numbers of retirees will have an easier time filling available jobs. Thank goodness southwest Michigan is a retirement destination.
Lynn Kellogg is CEO of Region IV Area Agency on Aging in Southwest Michigan. Questions on age or independence services? Call the Info-Line for Aging & Disability at 800-654-2810 or visit www. areaagencyonaging.org. The Generations column appears each Sunday in The Herald-Palladium.