We are bombarded with local, state, national, and international news everyday. Connections exist in the seemingly unrelated news so, if we pay attention, we can see social, economic, and governmental trends that will affect all of us significantly in the next 10 to 20 years. This is an historic time for the United States, and the world. If we prepare for it, these changes should have an uplifting or less damaging impact on us. Positive results would be fabulous! Change is inevitable. Let’s prepare to use these changes to our advantage.
Patterns, standards of behavior, and trends are paradigms. When change alters patterns we have a “paradigm shift”. Looking at the past 10-50 years, identifying signals in social patterns, in demographics, we can identify 3 major paradigm shifts occurring now and farther into the 21st Century. These are not political changes. These are not related to any one government, or any one party. These changes are about the numbers, only. It’s impossible to ignore the numbers.
Paradigm Shift #1: Disproportionate Size of the Elderly Population
Born between the years of 1946 to 1964, 76 million baby boomers are moving into their retirement years. The United States population, at 307 million, will soon be faced with 1-2 workers attempting to fund Social Security for each senior citizen. The oldest baby boomers reached 62 in 2008. These same individuals will reach 65 in 2011. Fortunately, many of these people are committed to working beyond what is considered the normal retirement age of 65, but that doesn’t really solve the problem. Many corporate retirement programs are outdated and need to be restructured.
These demographic issues face many other countries including Germany, China, Japan, and the UK. When China limited births to one per family, the Chinese government put their own people between a rock and a hard place. How will the offspring of the mature Chinese population care for their parents, when the odds are 1 worker to 2 or more seniors? The resources of Germany were already getting stretched thin when the Berlin Wall came down. At that point, a large population of Germans who had little to no experience in the free market, had to be provided with basic services and, hopefully, a secure future.
So, as we all get older, who will provide us with secure places to live, communities in which we can thrive, and all the necessities of life? Virtually every industrialized nation in the world, including ours, is faced with a relatively large senior population. The United States has a reputation of helping other countries solve pressing problems. With significantly limited resources for our aging population, we can no longer rescue the rest of the world from the same problems that we face at home.
Improved safety, medical advances, and improved standards of living all contribute to greater longevity. The average lifespan in the United States is 78, but that number refers to a baby born today. Already at 50 years old, your life expectancy will be much longer because you have been able to avoid accidents and illnesses that occur with some younger people. The average woman at age 50, who has avoided Cancer and Heart Disease, has a good likelihood of living to 92. The average man who lives to 65 has a good likelihood of living to 84. We see similar changes in other countries. In fact, the life expectancy for babies born in Japan and Singapore has reached 80 according to US Census Bureau’s International Data Base from the 2000 census, www.census.gov . The French will live to be 78 on average, while those born in Sweden, Italy, Australia and Canada can expect to live to be more than 79.
An increased life expectancy is a huge advancement for the better. But, who is going to fund the longer retirement periods that result? For our parents’ generation, men planned to live just a few years past 65, the usual retirement age, much longer than their parents lived. That has changed dramatically, and will continue to change. Should we continue to think of 65 as our retirement age? Who will support us for the next 15 – 30 years?
We are moving from a physical labor workforce, to a knowledge and information based workforce. Manufacturers adapt to more cost effective processes and locations. More manufacturing and service occupations have been taken over by machines. There is a self-serve line at Walmart. Machines are taking over. This is not necessarily a bad thing since it reduces our costs, but it is something that we must all adapt to, the sooner the better.
Rehabilitation in a nursing home requires dedicated, caring professionals. Nurses are known as generous and compassionate professionals, always striving to provide quality care. Nurses’ aides are also selfless and compassionate, caring for patients for very low pay. These professionals have little time to take care of their own needs. While the nursing home care can be excellent, there is already a shortage of professionals to provide that care. Not enough nurses, not enough aides and not enough time. This labor shortage will get much worse, before it gets better.
Jay Leno had a segment during the Tonight Show which he called “Jay Walking”. Jay is filmed while he walks along the sidewalk outside his studio, asking people who the Vice President is, where is the White House. In just a short time, he is able to find several people who know very little of the common tenets of every day life. It’s entertaining, but also unnerving, that so many Americans are not well-read, or educated about things that many of us take for granted .
The next time you make a telephone call to a company, and the computer answers the call, be grateful that the services of the company are less costly because of the automation. But also be ready and able to change your expectations and adapt to the changing needs of the workforce. Machines can perform the physical labor, but only humans can reason, learn, and analyze.
What should we learn from this? Remember that our government will not provide the same services in the future that we took for granted in the past, unless some tremendous changes are made. We are living longer than ever before and need to adapt our plans for a longer life. And, we must prepare future generations for more intellectually challenging, less physically challenging work.
This is our lesson for today: If you want to have a comfortable life, if you do not want the government in control of you life and your future, take control of it now! Do not plan to rely solely on the government, on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Be prepared to use your own resources. Accumulate financial assets so your nest egg will be ready when you need it. It is never too late to prepare. Rely on your family members’ help as they have relied on yours over the years. Prepare for the worst! Hope for the best! TAKE CONTROL!