Graying Of America

What does the term "Graying of America" mean?

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The term "Graying of America" means that, overall, the U.S. population is increasingly consisting of more elderly citizens. They are becoming a bigger segment of society and their needs are causing governments to have to put into place new or enhanced programs to care for this older populace. Consider this fact in a 2010 article by Maureen Mackey of The Fiscal Times, wherein she stated that, “Today, people age 50 and over comprise 24 percent of the U.S. population, while 17 million Americans are between the ages of 75 and 85. By 2050, that number will likely reach 30 million, according to the National Institute on Aging.”


This is a significant statistic as well as extrapolation to the year 2050, as it will have an effect on federal and state programs and their respective budgets. More elderly people (of retirement age and beyond) means less individuals working who are contributing to programs through payroll taxes.


For example, in Canada here, a smaller percentage of workers contributing to OHIP (the Ontario Health Insurance Plan – a Provincial Program), and the Unemployment Insurance Program (a Federal Government Program) means less funds for these programs. However, more people, in the case of OHIP, will likely need the program. This puts pressure on the government to find ways to fund this program. It often means cutting some of the things that OHIP will cover – medically speaking. OHIP already has cut the funding of some medical test in Ontario. We now have to pay for some tests that in the past cost us nothing to have performed.


Right now, in Canada, and I know this question concerns the United States, but I’m just stating this in comparison to make a point, the retirement age for getting Old Age security is 67. It was raised from 65 and it saved the federal government some money. This may be something that other governments would want to consider. However, the new Liberal government just elected in Canada, to win elderly votes, promised in the recent election campaign to drop this age requirement back to 65. As a result, they will have to find others ways to fund the increased financial pressure on this program as it strives to meet the needs of ‘graying’ Canadians.


So the “Graying of America” or America getting older means a shift in economic thinking, in essence. This applies to the funding of health care and other programs. It will also mean running the bureaucracy of these programs better to cut costs. Governments will have to be leaner and meaner (cutting some services despite how unpopular this will be) to keep these programs viable to meets the needs of ‘grayer’ Americans. It may mean cutting managerial and/or other staff that administer these programs – again unpopular or considered ’mean’ by many. This is a significant challenge for national and state governments and is a problem they cannot ignore.


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The “graying of America” is a problem that affects not only the United States but many countries around the world.

As the above post noted, our population is getting older. Increased average age is not, by itself, the problem. The problem arises when we try to figure out how to take care of the largest retired population in history. Several factors have contributed to this.

For one thing, many countries around the world began to create government entitlements to take care of the elderly at about the same time the baby boom began just after World War II. Nobody realized that we were putting ourselves on the hook for a future full huge government programs like Social Security and Medicaid. As the older citizenry begins to outnumber the younger, there are fewer workers available to support retirees. The money has to come from somewhere, so younger workers have to support a larger share of the bill. 

Secondly, as a greater percentage of the country’s voters become elderly, we are much less likely to be able to pass legislation that will reduce the economic burden created by the above mentioned social programs. We have seen the negative effects of this in recent years in countries such as Greece and Ireland.

Finally, the old family structure morphed in the twentieth century as people became more mobile. Instead of being cared for by their children, and in their children’s homes, more and more Americans relied on the government to pay for their needs.

One proposed solution is to ask workers to stay on the job a few more years, instead of expecting to retire at 65, as has been the custom. This seems like a more likely solution than cutting benefits, although that may well become necessary someday too.

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The term “graying of America” refers to the fact that the American population is steadily becoming more dominated by older people.  In other words, the median age of Americans is going up.  Therefore, the population of America as a country is getting older.

After World War II, the United States entered a period that is known as the “baby boom.”  During this time, American couples had relatively large numbers of children.  This created a demographic bulge, an age cohort with a large number of members compared to those which had gone before it and which came after it. 

Today, those baby boomers are reaching retirement age.  Because there are more of them than there are of younger generations, America's population is growing older.  This means that the sorts of issues that are important in the United States are changing.  We have to think more about how we will support the growing population of older people.  We have to focus more on medical care for the aged. 

Thus, the “graying of America” is a process in which America’s population is getting older.  This change impacts on our economy, our society, and our politics. 

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