By Don Keelan
It is not unusual, when the new year begins, to hear a plethora of statistics summarizing what had taken place in the previous year and what’s ahead. One onerous statistic is that in 2019 America’s population will be made up of more 60-plus-year-olds than under-18-year-olds. And according to Marc Freedman, an expert on aging and founder of Encore.org, it only gets worse in 2035. By then, we will have more citizens over 65 than under 18.
Freedman, writing in the Nov. 3, 2018, WSJ believes that we as a nation have a serious issue and some major changes should take place.
Ironically, at the same time Freedman’s piece appeared in the Journal, Heather Joslyn penned a similar article in the November 2018 issue of The Chronicle of Philanthropy. For Vermonters, this is not news. Countless articles have appeared in our state’s media noting that Vermont is second to Maine in having the oldest population in the country. So what does all of this mean?
From a negative viewpoint, it means the younger generation might not be too beholding to the older generation. From their perspective, the older generation is consuming too much in way of resources, especially in the area of Social Security and health care. They leave the workforce at 60 years old or just beyond, and the burden falls on the younger generation to pick up the tab.
It wasn’t too long ago that we had approximately five people working for one in retirement. Today it is closer to 3-to-1, if not lower. Sense the resentment? And we never helped the situation by encouraging our older generation to go into self-imposed segregation.
We accomplished this by building senior centers, senior clubs, and senior retirement housing communities, initially in Florida and Arizona. And for those who did not choose to leave, we built such places near their pre-retirement homes — and in Vermont we have scores of them.
According to the experts, two of the loneliest segments of our population are young and old people. And Marc Freedman’s nonprofit, Encore, suggest this segregation should be dismantled. There are countless ways the young and old can be so helpful to each other. His organization is working with many other nonprofits to actually bring the generations together.
Two such programs are Pushy Moms and Grandmas2Go. The former has made huge strides in assisting first generation college students at community colleges to continue on to four-year institutions. While the latter, according to Joslyn, “visit the homes of first-time moms who lack sufficient support.”
An educational program which had its start at Encore is now run by AARP. That program goes by the name Experience Corps and has older citizens assist elementary students in reading.
And it is not all one-way: Some programs that are taking hold provide for young people to work with older adults in teaching them the ways of technology, helping with household chores, and doing other tasks.
America is no longer the young country it once was. Not unlike Japan, Korea, Germany and Singapore, we too are aging — maybe not as fast, but still aging.
Singapore has long recognized their situation and has spent billions of dollars to deal with it. One program in that city-state, according to Freedman, is to build housing whereby three generations live under the same roof. For those of us who were raised in the inner cities, this was not unusual.
To bring the generations together, it will take more than nonprofits. In some cases, it will take labor unions and government to relax their rules to allow seniors to come into our schools and hospitals to teach and to serve. Conversely, relax our driving laws to allow the younger generation to serve our seniors. We need to end the time that we “warehouse” our seniors.
It should not be the young versus the old, instead the young and old together as one.
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington, Vermont.