Greg Ip

Articles by The Economist’s U.S. Economics Editor

Demography and the Economy: As Boomers Wrinkle

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FROM the moment they entered the workforce in the 1960s, baby-boomers began to shape America’s economy and politics. They will do the same as they leave. The first of the estimated 78m Americans born between 1946 and 1964 turn 65 in 2011, the normal age for retirement. As their ranks swell in coming years, the burden of financing their retirement will mount. So will their electoral importance.

Retiring boomers will squeeze the economy from two directions. The number of people enrolled in Medicare (federally funded health care, available from the age of 65) will grow from 47m in 2010 to 80m in two decades’ time. Enrolment in Social Security (federally funded pensions, available from the age of 62-67, depending on your birth year) will grow from 44m to 73m. The cost of the two programmes will grow from 8.4% of GDP in 2010 to 11.2% by 2030. Meanwhile, as boomers retire, the workforce will grow more slowly, as will the taxes to finance their benefits. The pensioner-worker imbalance and health-care inflation, which is driving up the bill for Medicare and Medicaid, the federal health benefit for the poor, will send the budget deficit into the stratosphere.

Both Barack Obama and Republicans in Congress claim that reforming such entitlements is a priority. But a demographic snag lies in the way. In the next two decades people aged 65 and over will rise from 17% of the voting-age population to 26% (see chart 1). Since the old vote more readily, their actual share of the electorate will be some three percentage points higher, reckons Robert Binstock, a political scientist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

The entire  article is linked here.

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Written by gregip

December 29, 2010 at 7:11 pm

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