Aging Index: A Wake-Up Call for Policymakers

Aging Index: A Wake-Up Call for Policymakers

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If you happened to be on K Street last week you might have caught Richard Jackson’s unveiling of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) “Global Aging Preparedness Index.”  

As usual, Jackson’s work under his “Global Aging Initiative” at CSIS is intellectually solid, innovative, and relevant to one of our most profound questions of policy – the ability to provide a decent standard of living for the old without imposing a crushing burden on the young.  How the U.S. answered that question – policy instruments and money – took form in earlier decades, which simply is out of whak with the demographic realities of the 21st century. The question may be of even greater consequence in this current era when we are living longer, but with fewer younger workers.

We do have some experience with high profile seniors working well beyond the traditional years --  Betty White, Jimmy Carter and Warren Buffet are models, and as suggested in an article in The Fiscal Times, “A Graying Work Force May Help Solve the Fiscal Crisis,” this may look more like the future. But as Dr. Jackson and his analysts  suggested, the challenge will be to make this a far more regularized part of our lives in the 21st century and embed it in our policiies and culture as a basis for addressing the fiscal crisis.
 Jackson sheds critical light on the changing character of the country as we confront the impact of the massive demographic shifts in the proportion of those under and over 60  both here in the U.S. and  globally.  His Global Aging Preparedness Index (GAP Index) provides a  creative  approach to a quantitative  assessment of the progress the 20  countries in his study are making in preparing for global aging over the next three decades: the  expected rise in  public old-age dependency burden; fiscal sustainability; and income adequacy. 

While many countries are already making progress on pension and retirement benefits – likely to increase a manageable 1% GDP on average among his GAP 20 --   healthcare will be unsustainable as it exceeds  an  expected 4% increase. 

We also learn the relative standing of the  20 GAP countries in the study.  On “Fiscal Sustainability”  -- the comprehensive measure of whether countries will afford aging should they continue their current policy paths – India, Mexcio, and Chile come out most prepared, perhaps also reflecting their demographic age make-up, while  Italy, France, Brazil, the Netherlands and Spain are at greatest fiscal risk.  The U.S.  is closer to the bottom at 14.  Not a great mark,  and a wake-up call to guide Congress  as they consider the impact of aging on our social and economic life.   As Dr. Jackson and his co-authors Neil Howe and Keisuke Nakashima put it, “The world stands on the threshold of a stunning demographic transformation. It is called global aging, and it promises to reshape virtually every dimension of the economy and society over the next few decades.”
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.