This article originally appeared on the BeyeNETWORK.
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In December of last year, I became “officially” old; not because of having arrived at any pre-specified chronological age, but because I was an official delegate to the 2005 White House Conference on Aging. This affair, mandated by Congress, had special significance in that it was the first such event in the 21st century, and its obvious focus was to prepare for the first wave of baby boomers to start arriving at the age of retirement. This large number of Americans moving into a new life stage will hit the workforce with the impact of a tsunami and will leave an indelible mark on the nation’s economic and social fabric.
Let’s just look at some of the facts. There are roughly 78 million baby boomers, individuals born between the years of 1946 and 1964. They will start turning 65 in 2011, five years from now. According to the Census Bureau, people will be celebrating their 60th birthday this year at a rate of more than 300 per hour.
In the year 2000, there were 35 million people in the U.S. who were 65 and older. They accounted for a bit more than 12% of the population. The 20th century saw the “older” segment of our population grow from 3 million to 35 million, but during the next 25 years this will dramatically change. By the year 2030, the older population is expected to reach 71.5 million, representing almost 20% of the total population.
Furthermore, it is the oldest-old population (85 years and older) that will see the most dramatic rise after 2030. It is expected that from 4.1 million in 2000, it will grow to nearly 21 million in 2050.
What is the meaning behind these numbers? The experts will start by pointing out the changes that come to individuals with aging in the social, economic, psychological and biological spheres. Biologically, we will see deterioration in mobility, vision and hearing. Psychologically, there will be challenges to memory and a decline in attention. Socially, there will be significant lifestyle changes and role shifts. And economically, income flows and resources will undergo dramatic changes.
All of this augurs substantial change in the national panorama. First, there is the cost of supporting this population which will be living primarily on some retirement plan and Social Security. Second, there is the cost of dealing with a significantly older population that will need increasingly more healthcare attention. This will fall to a large degree on our government’s Medicare/Medicaid budgets. The only catch, of course, is that there will be a lot fewer people in the labor force paying into these funds. We won’t belabor this point since enough can be read in the news these days, but it is a real problem based on the facts.
Then, we have the direct impact on the workforce. There will not be near as many arms and legs to do the nation’s work. We will have to import more people, outsource the work abroad or find different ways to do the actual work. In all probability, we will do a combination of the three across the industrial spectrum, but there will be significant impact and change on the workplace.
The object of this article is not to be the herald of the news that America is aging. There’s been enough of that already. Rather it’s important to point out that once again, we as enterprises and collectively as a nation will have to make decisions over the coming years on a number of issues that are directly related to this aging wave. Business intelligence will play an important role in assisting us, both individually and communally, to make decisions about how to deal with the changes.
On the individual side, there are many examples. For one, we’ve all been hearing of the problem with the different Medicare Part D plans (for drugs) that seem to be driving a lot of people to distraction since the eligible individuals have to decide which plan to adopt from multiple diverse possibilities. Well, we are likewise going to have to decide at what age it would make the most sense to start collecting Social Security, or when to take the money out of an individual retirement account (IRA) or 401(k) plan.
On the collective side, we are going to have to decide, as a nation, how we are going to cope with the major issues. This was the main reason that Congress mandated the 2005 White House Conference on the Aging. The fact is that we are going to have to make some fairly tough decisions. Are we going to extend the retirement age to 70? Are we going to increase taxes? Are we going to reduce benefits?
What are we going to do about the shrinking workforce? Do we outsource more work? Do we increase immigration? Do we restructure work processes? How? What? When? Where? Only through the rigorous and methodic application of business intelligence can we actually get the answers right.
Dr. Barquin is the President of Barquin International, a consulting firm, since 1994. He specializes in developing information systems strategies, particularly data warehousing, customer relationship management, business intelligence and knowledge management, for public and private sector enterprises. He has consulted for the U.S. Military, many government agencies and international governments and corporations.
Dr. Barquin is a member of the E-Gov (Electronic Government) Advisory Board, and chair of its knowledge management conference series; member of the Digital Government Institute Advisory Board; and has been the Program Chair for E-Government and Knowledge Management programs at the Brookings Institution. He was also the co-founder and first president of The Data Warehousing Institute, and president of the Computer Ethics Institute. His PhD is from MIT. Dr. Barquin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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