Maybe we’re not headed for demographic armageddon after all

The Census Bureau is out with a report on the changing composition of America's old people, and in one way, the story is the same as it's ever been: The Baby Boomers are retiring, and they're going to be expensive to take care of. The number of working-age people who'll be around to support their parents and grandparents is declining, in relative terms; the cost of pensions and social security payments and Medicare could take a toll. That's caused no small amount of fretting about the "silver tsunami" that will come crashing down on the economy over the next couple decades.

But the report also contains a useful reminder: Even as the elderly population increases, the younger population decreases in relative terms, which leaves the overall dependency ratio relatively stable. In 2050, it'll even be substantially lower than it was in the roaring 1960s:


Of course, youth dependency and old age dependency carry different kinds of burdens — older people require more medical care, while young people carry more educational costs. So the economy will still have to adapt to take care of the shifting load of non-working people. But overall, the picture is a lot less alarming when you know America has borne something similar in the past.

And besides, most developed countries are a lot worse off than we are:

Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 2.17.08 PM

Lydia DePillis is a reporter focusing on labor, business, and housing. She previously worked at The New Republic and the Washington City Paper. She's from Seattle.
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