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In 2050, Old May Not be Old Any Longer


Analysts at the U.S. Census Bureau have a provocative forecast for the American population in 2050, when today's 20-year-olds will be 65.

If projections hold, not only will there be more than twice as many people 65-and-over in sheer numbers, but their percentage of the population will jump from 12% today to 21%. More than 1 in 5 Americans in 2050 will be what we call "senior citizens." And by then a much greater proportion of them will be Hispanic, African-American and Asian-American.

Linda Jacobsen at the Population Reference Bureau, a private outfit that helps make sense of demographic data, helped us sort out the implications.

If forecasts bear out, in 2050 a whole lot more people, 65 and older, will be on the job outside the home. In part, that's because many more than today will be well educated and in rosy health, and will simply want to keep working. Others won't have a choice, since they won't be able to get Social Security benefits as the eligibility age keeps rising, quite possibly to 70 or beyond by 2050. And as private companies cut costs, generous pension and company-paid retirement accounts will be harder to find as well.

Today, women are usually the ones who stay home to care for Mom and Dad in their last years -- while men contribute money to their elders' care. But in 2050, women will be less available as caregivers, because they'll be busy at a workplace somewhere.

So, Linda Jacobsen points out, young Americans had better be saving money right now in the increasing likelihood they'll have to care for themselves in their advanced years. They can expect plenty more nursing homes and assisted-living centers to choose from.

In 2050, Americans who are 65 may be considered "middle-aged." By then, only what demographers today call the "oldest old" -- the 85-and-over crowd -- will be thought of as truly "old."