AARP Wakes Up to Reality
In a dramatic announcement on June 17, 2011, AARP, the giant advocacy organization, declared that they would be willing to consider reduced benefits for future retirees. Although AARP waffled upon confronting the explosive media response, by then pundits were all over what seemed like a major reversal of AARP's long-standing policy of holding firm on entitlements, regardless of social or political realities.
Visionaries like gerontologist Ken Dychtwald, founder of Age Wave, warned decades ago about "train wrecks" ahead when he foresaw the implications of a society demographically dominated by the third age (age 60-plus adults). Now those warnings have turned prophetic as we witness daily assaults on senior programs from a mean-spirited right wing determined to slash if not destroy Social Security, Medicare, and end of life care. Sadly, weak-kneed Democrats are caving to this agenda.
What is being ignored in all the rhetoric is that today's aging society demands radical restructuring to create a viable society for all age groups. Unfortunately, advocacy organizations are locked into mid-twentieth century economics and social ideologies. To insist that entitlements remain untouched is a self-destructive war cry that will fall on deaf ears unless we build up the sources of revenues to support the burgeoning elderly population. This means bringing manufacturing back to America, focusing on job creation, promoting an immigration policy that ensures an adequate workforce, improving the health of the nation's workers, reducing school dropout rates to fortify a 21st century ready workforce, providing low cost college education and reducing or forgiving student loans. These measures speak to the sweeping changes that have transformed the United States since the mid-twentieth century:
1. A demographic shift in which older adults are now the largest group -- greater than infants, small children, adolescents, young adults and middle aged adults.
2. Forty plus workers per retiree when Social security was enacted is now down to about three and heading to less than two.
3. A global economy that disenfranchised American workers and decimated the middle class.
4. Massive exporting of jobs overseas.
5. The decline of labor unions.
6. The increasing disappearance of pensions.
7. A technological revolution that changed the work world -- skills that previously lasted a worker's lifetime now have a shelf life of 5-10 years at most.
8. High unemployment with no light at the end of the tunnel -- and perhaps no tunnel to even look through.
All these factors contribute to the growing imbalance in the ratio of workers to retirees that is fueling the call for drastically revising entitlements. But a new agenda for a society of all ages can fortify the foundation of entitlements.
Young people are key to salvaging senior entitlements
We need every young person to be fully educated for the demanding technological work world of the 21st century. But today's high school dropout rate of 25 percent or more means that we will be expanding the ranks of low wage earners, the unemployed and the unemployable. Every child or young adult who falls by the wayside chips away at senior entitlements.