Sunday, January 2, 2011

The pig in the python is getting older

On New Year's day the oldest members of the Baby Boom Generation turned 65. All of their lives the people born between 1946 and 1964 have distorted everything they came across: swelling schools, then colleges, then the workforce. Their lives have been marked by standing in line.

The 79-million-member Baby Boomer generation accounts for 26% of the total U.S. population. That population lump has been described as a pig being swallowed by a python -- the lump moving along year by year.

In communities across the country, new schools were built to accommodate them, then closed after they had passed through, then reopened when their children came along, the baby boomlet. Click on this chart to see it in action.

Now as they move into retirement we have to wonder what havoc they will wreak next. Will they start selling their stocks? Their houses? If so what will that do to those markets? Have they saved enough? What about medical care, now that the government has gotten into it big time and all sorts of unknowable changes await everyone?

One things has already happened to many of them: as they rose in the corporate hierarchies, they started crowding each other out. There weren't enough jobs at the top of the pyramid. And then the pyramid itself collapsed, as the Internet erased the need for legions of middle managers. And so many Boomers were thrust onto the sideline and couldn't figure out what happened.

According to the Pew Research Center, for the next 19 years, about 10,000 people cross the age 65 threshold every day. By 2030, when all Baby Boomers will have turned 65, fully 18% of the nation's population will be at least that age, according to Pew Research Center population projections. Today, just 13% of Americans are ages 65 and older.

Of course what followed the Baby Boom was the Birth Dearth, meaning the Boomers had fewer children per family. Today that means fewer people to pay into Social Security to take care of the Boomers. With Social Security and Medicare at the breaking point -- and, really, something has to be done, which means less of both -- we can only wonder who is going to help this aging crowd transfer their Beatles albums to DVD.

I doubt we'll just let them die. And they do have a heck of a lot of votes.

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