Mind the Gap: Late Boomer America

16 January 2008 at 7:22PM Leave a comment

Over on Atlantic.com, economics blogress Megan McArdle has an interesting analysis of some economic factors related to the Great Boomer Retirement.

No Country for Young Men
by Megan McArdle

The Baby Boomers’ retirement will change the texture of society in ways we’ve scarcely begun to contemplate. A dispatch from America’s coming silver age

Start with the stuff America makes, and the people who make it. Young people buy goods, like cars, houses, and iPods. Old people need services, like transportation, meal preparation, and health care. We have made great strides in enabling the elderly to get around—the scooters you see advertised on daytime television, for example. My grandmother, who is blind and physically frail, was able to live at home much longer than she otherwise could have because she had Meals on Wheels, a home health aide, and a Life Alert-type necklace to call for help in case she fell.

But these services require a lot of labor. According to an analysis by McKinsey Global Institute, the number of hours required to produce an automobile in North America fell by 1.7 percent annually from 1987 to 2002, to an average of about 100 hours. Meanwhile, it still takes about the same amount of time as it always did to drive a senior to a doctor’s appointment, or to help an older patient bathe and dress. Productivity growth is faster in the things that kids consume than in the things that the elderly need.

As the Boomers age, they will consume fewer of the things that we produce efficiently, and more of the things that we provide relatively inefficiently. Productivity is notoriously difficult to pro­ject, but many forces will be pushing it downward as the Baby Boomers age.

This does not look good.

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