Our Aging World and How It Drives U.S. Economy
In 2005, there were 270,000 people over age 100 in the world -- a figure
The topic of aging in America often prompts discussion and worry about how we'll manage to manage our graying country. Author
The book offers a thoughtful -- and often surprising -- analysis of how aging will drive globalization and immigration patterns in the years ahead, and determine the economic destiny of nations.
But while Fishman is thinking global, he reports local. Fishman explains the trends by painting detailed portraits of places in the world already feeling the effects of aging. His on-the-ground reporting includes portraits of the hollowed-out economy of
And Fishman has concluded that the news about aging isn't all bad.
"It's a wonderful circumstance overall, since we get to live longer, but we have to adjust to a reality humankind has never faced before," he says. "Americans who reach age 60 have a pretty good chance of getting to 95. Our aging country faces a swelling number of dependent elders at the upper reaches of the lifespan.
"Just as it will be more common for people in their late 60s and 70s to work, it will also be common for those older workers to have living parents to tend to. Our workforce over 50 will grow to three times its current size, but the number of younger workers will stay nearly constant. Virtually all the expansion of the U.S. workforce will be in the upper age range."
This lopsided picture helps explain the growing globalization of a workforce devoted to providing caregiving services, Fishman argues. "It's very likely that older Americans will have very small families to look after them when they need it. And often, the families are separated by big geographical distances. Now, many families rely on immigrants to provide care services family members themselves cannot, or will not, take on. This is one way that aging is a kind of global enterprise."
"Robust immigration into the U.S. helps America age less quickly than most other aging countries," he adds. "But the numbers of young immigrants will never be enough to reverse the aging of our population."
"Shock of Gray" grew out of themes Fishman explored in his first book, the best-selling "China Inc." (Scribner, 2005), which explains how
"The built-in costs of an aging workforce are higher," he explains. "With an aging workforce, employers find ways to make their workforce more flexible in ways that avoid the age-related costs. Firm-specific knowledge becomes less important, so there are fewer reasons to give raises. And, employers start thinking about where they can automate or shift jobs abroad.
"Currently, the standard retirement ages in every developed country -- when workers can start to get
For Americans closing in on retirement, Fishman sees major implications in two areas: caregiving and job loss at midlife.
"If you're already retired, you may have children entering that catch-up period in their 50s where their employment is newly imperiled. So if you were counting on help from them, you might get more time from them but less money! I think the environment will push more family members who are available into the caregiving role.
"And for workers at mid-career, it's the flip of that: You have to try to ensure that your labor isn't devalued. You need to make sure that you have a good inventory of skills and a strong social network before you find yourself in an employment crisis."
The best way to avoid that crisis, Fishman argues, is to focus on developing differentiated skills. "We have a large group of workers who haven't kept their skills current," he says. "You might be a great machinist in your type of factory, but your factory may have a great outsourcing strategy. So you need a more generalizable skill."
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(c) 2011 William Pfaff