Why Governments, Businesses, and Other Stakeholders must prepare for the Coming Age of Longevity

The Shock of Gray: The Retiring Baby Boomers and the Challenges of Aging

It is indeed a fact that we are living longer than before and it is also a fact that the percentage of the elderly in relation to the total population is increasing. Thanks to the miracle of modern medicine and the advances in surgical techniques and procedures, human life is being prolonged and hence, people are living longer though not necessarily happier or wealthier.

The last term is very important as unless the elderly and the infirm have enough monetary and physical resources at their disposal, old age would become a curse rather than a blessing. Thus, it is time for all societal stakeholders including governments and businesses to prepare for the coming age of longevity.

This “Shock of Gray” or the economic and social dislocation and disruption that comes with a “graying” population needs to be managed and the risks and the downsides mitigated.

For instance, almost all countries in the Western world are facing a demographic shift wherein the elderly or the retiring Baby Boomers (the term used to describe those born in the “boom years” following World War Two) are increasing placing a strain on the financial, social, physical, and infrastructural capacities of the West.

Thus, more than ever, it becomes imperative for governments to plan and prepare for providing the dimensions of the resources mentioned earlier.

Economic Slowdown is Making Matters Worse

Having said that, there is also the fact that the entire West is currently in the midst of a prolonged downturn and hence, governments are increasingly running out of money as well as are facing overloaded infrastructural challenges and hence, the situation unless mitigated would lead to a crisis in the future.

Already Social Security payments in the United States which are the “Safety Net” for the elderly and the retired are based on a depleting corpus of money, and it is a matter of years or best, a decade, or so before Social Security goes bankrupt jeopardizing the chances of the Boomers enjoying their retirements.

Is there an Ideological Inclination to Care for the Elderly ?

Moreover, Medicare and Medicaid, the two governmental schemes that are tasked with the healthcare needs of the elderly are facing cuts to their corpus since the United States government (especially under President Trump) does not have the capacity or the ideological inclination to continue with the welfare paradigm.

Indeed, the term “ideological inclination” is very important since once the governments and the businesses no longer have the “heart to provide safety nets” and the “mind to plan ahead”, the elderly would indeed be in a dire situation. Also, businesses are cutting down on their 401(k) contributions thereby adding another layer of burden to the boomers.

Need for Hospices and Old Age Homes and How Immigration can Help

Of course, the points mentioned above are part of the wider problem of how to care for the elderly and other aspects of the problem or the problematic areas include things like providing Medical facilities to treat the elderly, Hospices and Old Age Homes to house them, and to train an “army of helpers and caregivers” to attend to the needs of the elderly.

In this context, some European countries like Germany have been “ahead of the curve” when compared to the United States whose healthcare system is broken. On the other hand, the United States is doing much better in providing alternate care by secondary and tertiary caregivers since it is a high concentration of immigrants who can step in to work in such occupations and that too in an inexpensive manner.

The West Needs to Open its Windows, Not Build Walls

Talking about immigration, it is indeed the case that Western businesses are prodding their governments to increase immigration since it is believed that the immigrants can do the jobs left unfulfilled by the native population due to retirement or death of the elderly.

Indeed, this is a key challenge as the Ageing West faced with a demographic nightmare has to turn to other ways to increase the labor pool and at the same time not give into racist and xenophobic tendencies.

The paradox here is that just at the time when the West needs to “open its windows” and “let the breezes from around the world in”; there is a talk of “building walls” and keeping the foreigners out.

In addition, as more people retire and more strain is placed on the immediate families, there is a need for societal stakeholders to ensure that social tensions do not arise from the nuclear families coping with the familial problems of caring for the elderly. Indeed, apart from the monetary and the organizational challenges, there are the social challenges as well and which cannot be ignored any longer.

The Age of Longevity Promises Turbulence

Lastly, we have discussed several aspects of the problem of the Graying West and to wrap up the discussion, it is indeed the case that the Day of Reckoning wherein all stakeholders can no longer pretend that the problem is going away or can be solved at a later stage cannot continue. Thus, the time is now to act, and that too in a well thought out manner and implemented on a war footing. As the various aspects of the age of longevity intersect with each other and collide with each other, we are in for some turbulence in the years ahead.


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