Sunday, March 12, 2006

Aging America

Friday’s edition of the San Francisco Chronicle detailed what it called a “comprehensive U.S. Census Bureau report” on the aging population of the United States (click here for the actual report, which is entitled “65+ in the United States: 2005”). As per the Chronicle:
People are living longer than ever -- the population age 65 and over is likely to double in the next 25 years -- and they have lower rates of disability and poverty and higher levels of education. Those who work with the elderly say the report underscores changes they're seeing: People over 65 seem to be changing their minds about retirement and are either returning to work or retiring later -- not just for financial gain but to feel fulfilled. Many senior centers are no longer full of sedentary people playing dominoes but are places where people gather to reignite passions for the arts or for physical activities like rowing. Older folks are becoming more engaged in civic affairs.
The report apparently chalks much of the health improvements up to physical activity; even modest exercise “reduces the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal problems and cancer. Aerobically fit older people lose less brain tissue.”

This report is great news for everybody – except the Democrat Party.

You see, the Democrat Party has for decades staked much of its claimed birthright to power upon the premise that it can provide things for needy people, whether or not those people are, in fact, needy. Indeed, it has painted itself as some grand purveyor of goodness, the likes of which have never been seen in our world, and that it is only through the beneficence of the progeny of Jackson (Andrew, not Jesse) that people are able to make it through the day. The centuries of human success prior to the advent of the modern Democrat Party are depicted as mere happenstance.

The elderly (or should I say aging) population of the United States in particular has been one of the party’s prime demographics, if not its prime demographic. It is certainly fair to say that Democrats would not have wielded as much political power as they had over the last half century without perpetually making people between the ages of 40 and 70 think that Republicans wanted to starve them, take away their Geritol, and toss them into the streets. Republican success in the last six election cycles indicates that the old paradigm may be crumbling, but the Democrat message of “Vote for us, and your handouts will remain secure” still resonates with certain voters.

Reports like this one highlight a glaring problem: Social Security was created in a vastly different world. It should at least be dramatically overhauled. Ideally, it should be eliminated. Perhaps the most intelligent (and slightly dastardly) thing President Franklin Delano Roosevelt did during his time in the White House was set the effective date for receipt of Social Security (what is now ludicrously referred to as the “retirement age”) at 65. The dirty little secret was that very few people who were around during the advent of Social Security were ever able to collect Social Security, or were rarely able to do so for long stretches of time. Americans by and large were much younger, and so there were many more people paying into the system than would ever collect from it.

Fast-forward to today. Americans regularly live decades beyond the age of 65 – indeed, living into one’s eighties or nineties is no longer reason to give the folks at Guinness World Records a call. Those 65 and older are in better physical and mental shape than they were decades ago, which improves quality of life and lessens the need for nanny state subsidization. And with the shifting of American demographics, payments being made into the system by those below the age of 65 is increasingly burdensome, almost cripplingly so.

For those that think American citizens have some God-given right to start receiving checks from the government at the age of 65, I encourage you to consider what the report has to say. Pay special attention to the anticipated shifts in the U.S. population over the next 45 years.

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