At some point soon, America is going to have to come to grips with the massive psychological and economic implications of its aging population. It won’t be easy.
Later this week I’ll be participating in the annual Workshop on Transforming Humiliation and Violent Conflict, sponsored by the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies Network and hosted by Columbia University, Teachers College, in New York. In one of the sessions, I’ll be talking about American social attitudes and public policy concerning our aging population. In an abstract submitted for the workshop titled “American Elders: Human Dignity and the Aging Population,” I stated:
America’s population is aging. The most senior members of its largest generation are now reaching traditional retirement age, and millions more are on their way. This fast evolving reality will confront America’s cultural embrace of youth and youthfulness, and it will carry great significance for human dignity in a nation that does not naturally elevate its elders or easily accept the processes of growing older. The aging population will implicate not only how we think about ourselves and relate to one another as individuals, but also how public policy responds to the economic, employment, public health, and human services challenges presented by these changing demographics.
My remarks will examine some of the central considerations of our aging population from a human dignity perspective, including:
Personal and Interpersonal
- Personal attitudes toward aging;
- Interpersonal dignity, civility, and acceptance as the population ages;
- Avoiding “us vs. them”;
- Creating communities of care and caring;
- The roles of faith and spirituality.
- The retirement funding train wreck (it’s about much more than Social Security);
- Providing employment for those who work later into life, while creating opportunities for younger people to join the labor force;
- Health care for an aging population;
- The future of elder care;
- Who will pay for all this?
- Let’s look to cultures with healthier attitudes toward aging.
These challenges will have significant implications for the world of work. They will impact the demographics of the workplace and employee benefit programs. They also will create an expanding sector of the labor market devoted to elder care and health care.
If we’re capable of philosophically redefining a crisis as an opportunity, then perhaps this is the best we can hope for. I believe these coming decades will be a test not only of our policy and economic ingenuity, but also of our hearts.
For all posts on retirement-related topics, go here.