The largest single demographic generation in the history of America, the 75-million strong baby-boom population is now entering it’s final 20-year run. Avid consumers, boomers have fueled our economy at each stage of its varied history; as post-world-war-two children we prompted an elementary school building boom; as adolescents we popularized sex, drugs and rock-n-roll; entering the work force we prompted the digital revolution and transformed the industrial aesthetic; as adults we popularized ecology, awareness of global warming and organic food.
As we baby boomers enter our final decades, America will again witness massive economic effects, but this time geriatric. If you pay close attention you can already see these effects beginning to manifest: providing appropriate housing for seniors, coping with millions who have no money for retirement, meeting geriatric medical needs and an epidemic of dementia – all are on the horizon. And of course, legalization of suicide by medical means is also now on California’s legislative table.
Senior housing and retirement communities are expanding their facilities in anticipation of highly increased demand. These projects now routinely include assisted-living, nursing and dementia units. Whatever criticisms one has of capitalism in its current form, it must be admitted that when money is to be made investors line up in droves, and investing in projects pertaining to aging baby boomers is a no brainer.
Dealing with those who’ve either set aside nothing for retirement or end up outliving their money is a different story. Reverse mortgages, of course, can work for those who own property, but for renters there are fewer options. It’s inevitable that the aged poor will end up on government support, but their lives will not be pretty. As many as 30% of the 75-million boomers have nothing for retirement, and this in an age of reduced safety net programs.
Boomers predictably develop the type of health problems seen in the elderly; heart disease, diabetes, high-blood pressure, stroke, cancer and so forth. In many cases, these medical issues have already appeared and are epidemic; a lifetime of too much rich food, drug and alcohol use, lack of exercise, and domestic isolation all have taken their toll. The medical system, already seeing a surge in hospital construction and increased need for care, will continue to be the essential engine of our economy. Big money is going to be made and due to this fact we will never see single-payer health care in our lifetime.
High rates of Alzheimers and dementia means tens of millions of boomers will be unable to cope for themselves. Tragically, some will end up dying on the streets and others fading-out in nursing homes and similar facilities simply medicating demented boomers into submission. Big Pharma will jump in with new classes of drugs to properly subdue the rock-n-rollers. Perhaps virtual-reality headsets will provide a satisfactory alternate reality for the many who have lost their own.
In light of all this, it’s not surprising that California is now looking at medically-assisted suicide, euphemistically called “end of life” services. I’m reminded of the movie Soylent Green and its depiction of a modern “euthanasia” center in which the elderly are warmly welcomed, gently drugged and sent to death in a beautiful cinematic miasma of soothing sound and color. We boomers have always liked science fiction, after all. That we’ll fuel a really cool economic euthanasia “bubble” also sounds about right.
My o’ my, the capitalists sure are gonna miss us when we’re gone.