Public Policy Brief No. 18 | January 1995

The Economics of Aging

Can We Afford Grandma and Grandpa?

S. Jay Levy presents a preliminary study of the consumption patterns of retirees and nonretirees during the 1980s, paying particular attention to the distribution of the national consumer product. The consumer product increased in aggregate size during the period, but the retirees’ portion of it grew four times faster than the working households’ share. Indeed, the standard of living for much of the working population declined. Levy finds that the incremental portion of the “economic pie” absorbed by retirees is tantamount to a “tax” on nonretirees that falls most heavily on lower-income people. Although analysts anticipate a peak in the proportion of retirees to workers in the population around the year 2025, Levy asserts that problems created by this situation are, to a serous degree, already present. He recommends raising the retirement age and encouraging retirees to engage in public service activities. He believes, however, that the fundamental issue in enlarging the economic pie for everyone is unemployment. Levy cites as results of unemployment the increasingly common early retirement programs and the unwillingness of employers to undertake the costs of training older workers. He also contrasts the policies of the early postwar era that emphasized economic growth and enterprise with contemporary policies that are influenced by the interests of retirees in preserving their income and wealth.

Associated Program:
S. Jay Levy

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