Wednesday, September 9, 2008
IN MY OPINION (Column)
Pointing the Way to the Future Through Change
By TED RUHIG
Change seems to be the order of the day whether it’s due to the development of new relationships between countries in response to conflict (U.S./Russian relations shaken by the conflict in Georgia comes to mind) or here in our own country (census projections of changes in the makeup of the U.S. population are at issue here).
According to the Census Bureau, the 305 million folks who now live in the U.S. are projected to grow to 400 million by 2039 and 43.9 million by the year 2050. By that time, whites will make up just 46 percent of the population with the African-American population making up 15 percent.
The big gainers will be Hispanics, who now make up about 15 percent of the population. They will double to 30 percent by the year 2050. All of this will occur in the new epoch of energy independence with its emphasis on lower energy consumption and the greening of the earth.
The oldsters of the day will be pleased to know the Census Bureau projects that the population of those 85 and older is expected to triple to 19 million. People now 65 or older make up at least 25 percent of the population in 24 counties across the country. The leader of this elder movement is LaPaz County, Arizona, with 32 percent of its residents falling into that age category.
While most of the counties with a disproportionate number of elderly are in Florida, Texas and Michigan, it is in California that the elderly population is expected to grow more than twice as fast as the total population. The oldest old age group will increase at an even a faster rate than the elderly, having an overall increase of 143 percent during the period by 2020.
Of California’s 58 counties, 38 will have increases of more than 150 percent, 26 will have increases of more than 200 percent, and 11 will have an over-300 percent increase in the number of persons aged 85 and older. Of these 11 counties, all but one is located in the central and northern areas of the state.
Counties can expect to experience even higher growth rates after 2020. In particular, the influence of the 85 and over age group in California will emerge at its highest point between 2030 and 2040 as the first of the baby boomers reach 85 years of age.
The changing makeup of the population extends far beyond the elderly. Since 2000, members of racial and ethnic minorities have become a majority of youngsters under 15 years old in two of the nation’s fastest-growing states, Florida and Nevada, with Georgia, Maryland and New York poised to follow, according to the census data.
The shift is even more pronounced among minority youngsters under 5, already nearly a majority nationally. Last year, New York became the 12th state where children constitute a majority, with New Jersey poised to be the 13th.
The new data also shows that the segment of the population deemed to be of working age — those between 18 and 64 - will have fallen to just 57 percent by mid-century compared with 63 percent today. This decline will present a substantial challenge to those considering the financial pressures facing Social Security and Medicare.
The U.S. is already facing a retirement crisis, with most working people saving too little, if anything, for their retirement years. There is no ready cure in sight, especially with the bursting of the housing bubble.
Nearly 10 million people have lost all of the equity in their homes. Moody’s Economy.com estimates that 8.8 million homeowners — about 10.3 percent of all U.S. homes - have zero or negative equity. Another 10-15 million households are at risk of becoming “upside down” if prices continue falling.
As a result, workers unable to borrow money on their devalued homes are prematurely tapping into their retirement savings by taking out loans from their 401 (k) plans. This money is being used to pay medical bills or to continue making mortgage payments. Using retirement money in this way has significant long-term consequences, potentially costing the consumer hundreds of thousands of dollars over time.
In response to this litany of bad economic news, Barack Obama has ob-served: “We know that we cannot put up walls around our economy. We know that we cannot reverse the tide of technology that’s allowed businesses to send jobs wherever there’s an Internet connection. We know that government cannot solve all our problems, and we don’t expect it to. But that doesn’t mean we have to accept an America of lost opportunity and diminished dreams.
Not when we still have the most productive, highly-educated, best-skilled workers in the world. Not when we still stand on the cutting edge of innovation and science and discovery. Not when we have the resources and the will of a decent, generous people who are ready to share in the burdens and benefits of a global economy.”
Innovation, science and discovery - very forward-looking words representing change. Change is the key to the future. More oldsters and more minority children. These children will inherit a retirement problem that the political leadership will have to take on as their responsibility.
With a health system to repair and an economy to repair, the challenges on our future leaders will be great. They will need to emphasize education (what Obama calls “the currency of the Information Age”) and acknowledge the inherent value of innovation and discovery as the way to the future. If they recognize these things, the economic and social challenges we face today can be met head on. And the country will prosper once again.
2008, Capitol News Service