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Getting old and how we

As I See It

In a new book, “Gray Dawn,” former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Peter G. Peterson, predicts that in less than 25 years, senior citizens will comprise more than 18% of the U.S. population — the same proportion as in Florida today. Early in the next century there will be more grandparents than grandchildren!

Will all those seniors shift the balance of political power? They vote with greater regularity than the average citizen. How will our society and economy change as a result of this growth in the number of older Americans?

Peterson estimates that by 2038, people 65 and older will make up 34% of the electorate — up from only 16% in 1966. If you think Social Security is a sacred cow now, just wait till then!

The shift in population age could render Social Security even more of a hot potato than it is now. The 65+ population is about 85% white. The younger generations who will be paying the Social Security tab are much more racially mixed. According to “maturing marketplace” consultant Ken Dychtwald, “What you’ve got is an overwhelmingly white generation with enormous influence asking African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians to support them for decades.” This situation foretells of potential racial as well generational conflict.

Another potential area of conflict is education. One retirement community near Phoenix already tried to secede from the local school district in 1997 to avoid paying school taxes. A recent study of voting patterns of older citizens in Florida found outright hostility toward the construction of tennis and basketball courts; the seniors wanted more shuffleboard and walking trails.

An older America will likely be a less violent America. Because young people commit a disproportionate number of crimes — teenagers kill 10 times as often as people over 50 — a senior nation will likely be kinder and gentler. It is also likely to be more feminine. Women outlive men by an average of seven years.

Economically speaking, industries likely to thrive include health care, golf-related businesses and funeral parlors. People over 65 also buy half of all luxury cars sold and they eat out more often than the average person.

The change in population demographics also points to another problem. With more older people and fewer younger ones, there will be fewer siblings to take care of their aging parents and the parents will be around for longer than ever. Will the kids and society in general stagger under the burden of caring for all these oldsters?

On a lighter note, the situation will be favorable to the males who survive to senior citizendom.

There is already a serious “man shortage” in the retirement areas of south Florida — 10 women for every man some estimate.

Women mostly want companionship; men want more. “Older men want someone who can cook and make them coffee and take care of them,” says Ellie Luge, 69, a south Florida retiree. “I’d just like a full-time companion who isn’t looking for a nurse with a purse.”

THOUGHT FOR THE MOMENT

In conversation with Winston Churchill, Lady Astor once said, “If you were my husband, I’d put poison in your coffee.” To which Churchill responded, “If you were my wife, I’d drink it.”

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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