Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Aging more gracefully

Good news from Andrew Ferguson at Bloomberg. Future retirees will be less of a burden, not more, than present ones.
The Census Bureau has taken a second look at these gloomy numbers and found more than a silver lining. The very trends that foretold actuarial doom -- greater longevity and the sheer size of the boomer cohort -- will not only postpone the day of reckoning but lessen its effects. The future, in other words, may not be what it used to be. Unfounded Alarm ``Many people have an image of aging that may be 20 years out of date,'' said Richard M. Suzman from the National Institute for Aging, which conducted the report for the Census Bureau. And that outdated image, he suggests, is the source of the unfounded alarm. Older people (those over 65) in the next generation will be healthier. Twenty-five years ago, more than one of four old people suffered from a chronic physical disability. Now the figure is fewer than one of five. The proportion of old people in nursing homes has declined. Older people are richer than before. In 1959, 35 percent lived in poverty. Now it's 10 percent. Their per capita net worth, even apart from Social Security payments, is rising. And older people are better educated. By 2030, more than 25 percent of the senior population will have a college degree. Higher levels of education usually signify a healthier population enjoying a higher standard of living. Not So New The picture the Census Bureau presents is of an aging generation that will be working (and paying taxes) longer and placing fewer and less costly demands on the health care and pension systems than we expected. Actually, this optimistic interpretation isn't so new. In the aging debate, the optimists -- on whose side the Census Bureau has now weighed in -- have recently seen their numbers grow.

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