America Does Not Really Have a Big Aging Problem

This isn’t exactly breaking news, but the Census Bureau released a report on America’s aging population today, and the basic takeaway is something we already know: as the Baby Boomers age, our population is going to get steadily older. However, what’s less widely recognized is that this is only true for the next couple of decades. After 2030, our elderly population stabilizes at about one-third the size of the working-age population.

In other words, all the Sturm und Drang over Social Security aside, our demographic problem isn’t really that bad. What’s more, compared to other countries, our outlook is positively sunny. Take a look at the red bars in the chart on the right. They show the projected size of the elderly population in various developed countries in 2050, and the United States is in by far the best shape. Our elderly population stabilizes in 2030 at about 21 percent of the total population, a number that’s significantly lower than even the second-best country (Britain, at 24 percent). Most other countries not only have elderly populations that are far larger, but their elderly populations are growing. These countries have demographic problems.

It’s worth driving this point home: America doesn’t really have a huge aging problem. We have a very moderate aging problem, which could be handled in the federal budget with fairly modest changes to Social Security and Medicare. What we do have is a health care problem. But that’s a problem for us all.


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

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Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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