My three top concerns:
1. Economic security of future retirees. As the boomers and future generations move into retirement, many may face a future without sufficient savings to last a lifetime. While some older boomers may have defined benefit plans, pensions —which assured a steady stream of income—have become a thing of the past. The changing economic structure and the gig economy may work against financial stability for future generations. Helping younger people learn financial basics, policy incentives to help people save, and Social Security guarantees will be key to assuring that no older person is forced to spend down assets and fall into poverty.
2. The long-term care gap. To date, extended long-term care services (unlike acute care services) are only covered for those whose income and assets are low enough to qualify. The people in the middle, unless they have private long term care insurance, often have to spend down their life savings to pay for care, whether in a nursing home, assisted living facility or home care. Complicating this further is the looming shortage of aides and home care workers, receiving low wages with no future for advancement. With more people living longer and more likely to develop chronic conditions, long-term care gap is a crisis waiting to happen. Changes are needed in public-private policy approaches to integrating acute and long term care and in new approaches to providing long term care insurance so more people can be covered. The care worker crisis is real and will be a real problem as more people reach very old age.
3. Ageism. While new images of aging are now more frequent, our country (as well as others throughout the world) still have a youth bias in policy and in societal attitudes and behaviors. Because of age discrimination, older people face difficultly in finding jobs. Many need to be employed to supplement their income but can’t even get an interview. Advertisers and marketers focus on the 18-to-49 age group. We need to find a way to reframe aging so that the talents and experience of older people can be tapped. They can provide the manpower and skill to help solve some of society’s problems.
My three reasons to be optimistic:
1. Intergenerational solidarity. In the past there has been a fear of generational warfare, with young and old fighting for limited resources. The evidence shows that this is not the case as more communities and national and international organizations seek ways to bring the generations together to solve societal problems and to help each other. I see a bright future as we move in this direction.
2. Entrepreneurship and technology. The government can’t do it all. I am encouraged by the energy and innovation coming from the private sector in creating new products and services for older persons. New technologies, while still in a Wild West phase, show great promise to improve the quality of life for older persons and their families.
3. Human capacity and resilience. Finally I have faith in the human capacity of our citizens to do the right thing for all members of our society, including older people. While every generational cohort has different characteristics, adult developmental research finds that older people, both past and present, are resilient and despite hardship are able to pass on lessons learned to help future generations.