Age is just a number...right?

Benjamin Chase of the Plainsman
Posted 9/22/23

In this From the Mound, the writer examines how an aging population affects multiple areas of wealth, such as the economy, health care, and politics.

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Age is just a number...right?


“I hated when they said
I’m aging gracefully
I fight it every day
I guess they never see
I don’t like this at all
What’s happening to me?”
“Back When We Were Beautiful” - Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell

The 2013 record “Old Yellow Moon” was the second collaborative work between Harris and Crowell. The song choices expressed an impressive reflection on 40 years of friendship between the duo within the music industry.

The song is written from a pair of mid-60s performers, looking at how they’re viewed now in the world compared to their younger years. While the tune above never charted at the time, it’s been one of the more popular songs for the duo to play together on tour.

The lyrics focus on how life is changing physically, emotionally, and mentally, but the writer longs to go back to those days.

Age has become a frequently-discussed issue in many industries recently, from the drastically declining work force, the significant need for elder care staff and training, and, finally, in the political sphere.

To address the first, the easiest statistic to review is the “baby boom” that happened in post-World War II America.

From 1946-1964, the birth rate in the country was more than 20 births per 1,000 people, with the peak of roughly 27 per 1,000 people in 1948. While birth rates went down significantly - and quickly - until 1978, rates have continued to decline slightly each year to this year’s rate, which is percentage points higher than 12 births per 1,000.

That influx in population during the 1940s to 1960s added thousands of workers into the work force, allowing American industry to explode in the 1960s and 1970s.

The issue for the work force now is that even the youngest baby boomers are now hitting 60 with the vast majority now 65 or older, meaning they’re more disengaged from the work force.

Those who were still hanging on at the time saw the pandemic as a logical breaking point to exit the work force.

So, while we consistently like to hear about how many jobs a new industry is going to provide when it comes to town, or to hear how many jobs are added in the monthly national jobs report, we also need to understand that those positions only add to a workforce that’s already at extreme lows for unemployment locally, statewide and nationally.

So without added training programs and schooling programs, there simply are not the qualified workers for many of these jobs that are being “added.”

The oldest of the baby boomers are now past 75 years of age and many are needing to make end-of-life living changes.

Better healthcare has allowed the average life expectancy to increase notably in the country, moving from 68.2 in 1950 to 76.4 in 2022, after peaking at 78.8 pre-pandemic.

With a larger portion of the population reaching the age where they require a senior living facility, the workforce to staff such jobs is badly needed.

This should drive significant change in the industry, working to attract top employees, train employees, and retain the best employees through an excellent pay and benefit structure.

Instead, the model that many senior facilities employed 40 years ago continues to be the prevailing model, and it is leading nursing care facilities to close rather than expand.

Valuing our aging population requires getting the absolute best in care, not just in high-end, lavish facilities, but — more importantly — investing in excellent employees who will show the respect and care that every person in a care facility deserves.

After all, if aging trends continue, wouldn’t you want the best care when it comes time for you to move to a similar place?

The vision of what we want to leave for ourselves — and for some reason, not our children, grandchildren, and future generations — has become the dominant thread in politics.

The incumbent president will be 81 when the 2024 election happens, the front-runner for the Republican nomination will be 78 in November 2024 (if he’s not in prison), and the Senate Majority Leader will be 82 in February — with three more years remaining in his term.

That doesn’t even mention other politicians who are in their 80s…and 90s…and still serving in Congress.

What has happened is that politics has become a full-time job, and that excludes those who are still in the work force from actively pursuing political roles.

South Dakota is proud of its citizen legislature, and if the United States Congress was to be forced into 40, or even 60, working days to accomplish its goals each year, the age of those in office would almost certainly drop precipitously.

Instead, being a member of Congress is a full-time job, so unless you want your career to be politics, and not just something you do as a contributing member of society, such as serving on local boards, you simply cannot even begin to consider a run.

Certainly, some positions should be full-time as an elected official. The president, a state’s governor, and even the mayor of a reasonably-sized city requires full-time attention to the role. However, for a town such as Huron, that does mean that we limit those who can take the role, to those who either can afford to put a job on pause during the term of being the Mayor or those beyond retirement age.

One of the notable changes that has been pushing into politics has been a lack of desire to plan.

In other words, not just looking at today and tomorrow, but ensuring the actions taken today also take into account potential changes that are 10, 20, 50 years down the road. That sort of planning requires negotiation and compromise among all within a party and across party lines to reach the best piece of legislation for the country as a whole rather than for financial supporters or supporters of just one political party.

In fact, Gallop has found in recent polling that, unlike the previously-held assumption that someone becomes more conservative, hence Republican, in their voting patterns as they age, respondents in polling now no longer show a trend toward conservatism as they age.

Instead, the move is toward extremism - jumping to the very extremes of both sides of the aisle - as one ages, and that sets up those who are now in power…and the largest voting block, aging baby boomers…as those who will entrench on each side of issues and be so far from the middle that compromise isn’t available.

To put it plainly, as older members of Congress and in the presidency are further pushed toward the fringes in the current age-related political extremism as seen by Gallop, it means fewer compromises and more issues with government shutdowns, dingleberries added to regular spending bills just to get them passed, and consistently getting bills that only address the problem in that exact moment, rather than having some level of foresight to prepare for changes coming.

A reactionary government led by 80-plus year-old Congress members and perhaps President — what could go wrong?