While the news that Kodak is preparing for bankruptcy protection is not surprising, it’s certainly a dramatic reminder of an earlier time – a time we accept has having passed, given today’s technological innovation and scientific advances. So, too, should we be willing to accept the new and urgent realities of today’s aging populations and the changes to our social and economic institutions they demand.
As just one example, look at longevity in New York City. A newborn in NYC today will have a life expectancy of 80.2 years. That’s not only higher than the 78.1 life expectancy nationally, but it gets even better as we age in NYC. Life expectancy for 40-year-olds in the city has now increased to the ripe old age of 82.
A new and realistic vision for aging is also embodied in the WHO Age Friendly Cities Network, which features New York as one of its model programs. The Big Apple has been looking at how to change its ways to accommodate demographic realities. The city boasts “age-friendly improvement districts” in sectors ranging from health care and transportation to small business and education, a push that is jointly administered by Mayor Bloomberg’s office and the New York Academy of Medicine, http://www.nyam.org/urban-health/healthy-aging/which led by Dr. Jo Ivey Boufford and Ruth Finkelstein. Older Americans have been sharing input on how to make districts more livable and accommodating; the input involves everything from physical improvements to parks, stores, post offices and public transportation to new attitudes toward the aging.
And the program known as “Keeping Boomers Fit for Work” features companies that keep people on the job, especially those with hard-to-replace skill sets. Duke Energy Corporation offers a special stretching program for its line technicians before they start their shifts, while Harley Davidson, at one of its engine plants, employs trainers who ice down inflammations between shifts. The current issue of The SAIS Review of International Affairs, in fact, which addresses the topic of young and old, contains a lead article entitled “How Aging Populations Can Drive Economic Growth” (co-authored by this writer). It focuses on three companies – BMW, CVS and Tesco – that are gaining a competitive edge by integrating aging workforces into their business models.
From all of this, what’s clear is that in this new year of 2012 – the second year that baby boomers in the U.S. and around the world are turning 65 – we need to acknowledge the changes that aging populations are bringing to a new century. With higher longevity and lower fertility, the old social welfare framework is truly socially unworkable and fiscally unsustainable. And this is why, in this 2012 presidential election cycle, we should expect to see serious and dispassionate policy analysis of the social and economic institutions in this country that have become outdated and unable to meet the needs of a new and growing aging population – institutions that must change to embrace reality.