The 112th Congress and America’s Longevity Benefit

The 112th Congress and America’s Longevity Benefit

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The 112th session of the U.S. Congress got underway yesterday and USA Today ran an op-ed by Laura Vanderkam, “This Isn’t Grandpa’s Retirement,”  which ought to be of interest to any congressional members thinking about economic growth, health care, social security or education.

Ms. Vanderkam suggests that seniors who keep working enjoy soul-boosting benefits as they contribute to society. It’s also economically valuable, she says, because their choice of work over leisure feeds the economy and keeps “our most expert workers” in the labor market.

Such would be a very positive view of longevity – more people living longer who can work longer and thus create more wealth. Since it seems likely the new Congress will be engaged this year in a significant tax discussion, how about using that debate to create tax credits for working longer, and developing educational support to teach new skills to this new demographic that would otherwise be a drain on our public fiscal resources.

On Social Security, Ms. Vanderkam also puts forward some interesting ideas. “The notion that work is something you want to stop doing is getting a makeover,” she writes. Baby boomers want to stay in the workforce, she says, and this might be encouraged by reducing the Social Security tax rate on workers older than 62. It “would give older workers a little more money in their pockets and would make them cheaper to employers.”

Congress might take a look at the new equality act passed last year in the U.K., which seeks to make age irrelevant. The law embraces the U.K.’s aging populations by prohibiting discrimination against older people who seek goods and services. And this year the U.K. is looking at eliminating the default retirement age of 65.

Of course, Vanderkam’s vision only makes sense if our aging population – the 77 million baby boomer bulge turning 65 over the next two decades –  can stay healthier longer. Age-related illnesses – Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, and cancers, for example – are also in sight of the 535 just sworn in, who will  debate health reform. A prototype might be a little noticed law passed in the lame duck session and signed by President Obama this week along with 35 others – S. 3036, the “National Alzheimer’s Project Act,” establishing a National Alzheimer’s Project within HHS and an advisory council on Alzheimer’s research, care and services. Implemented effectively, the new law will provide incentives for finding Alzheimer’s innovations, one of the critical non-communicable diseases (NCDs) that must be addressed if our longevity benefit is to be realized. What else can the 112th do for these NCDs that, unaddressed, will become the nightmare of an otherwise wonderful longevity miracle?

As Congress recovers from its swearing-in festivities, its members could do worse than read Ms. Vanderkam’s piece and consider a new perspective on this huge and growing segment of their constituencies.

Michael W. Hodin, Ph.D., is Adjunct Senior Fellow at The Council on Foreign Relations, and Executive Director of The Global Coalition on Aging.

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Executive director of the Global Coalition on Aging, Michael W. Hodin, Ph.D., is also managing partner at High Lantern Group and a fellow at Oxford University's Harris Manchester College.