Study: Citizens Over Age 50 Not a Drain on Economy

Published in Pawtucket Times, October 10, 2014

Almost one year ago, Oxford Economics in cooperation with AARP released a briefing paper, The Longevity Economy. The national study gave the nation’s largest aging advocacy group the ammunition it needed to dispel the myth that baby boomers and seniors are not a drain on the nation’s economy, rather researchers found that they drivers of the nation’s economic growth. This data will keep businesses, investors and inventors from overlooking the wants and needs of older Americans as they develop new products and business plans.

This week the national analysis was supplemented, detailing the state level contribution of people over 50.

Shattering a Myth

According to Jody Holtzman, AARP’s Senior Vice President Thought Leadership, the nonprofit aging advocacy group commissioned the initial Longevity Economy report from Oxford Economics to challenge society’s and Washington’s misconceptions that people over age 50 are only a drain on the economy. He said, “to the contrary the analysis shows that this population is an important driver of economic growth in key sectors of the United State economy such as technology, healthcare, travel and education.”

Holtzman says the formal economic impact analysis has been conducted, both nationally at the state level can shift the way federal and state policy makers will view the nation’s aging population. “Not only can we “afford” the growing population of older people, we can’t do without them, as they are a key source of economic growth, jobs, salaries, and taxes that benefit people and families of all ages and generations,” he says.

“The economic activity of the Longevity Economy provides employment for nearly 89 million Americans with $3.8 trillion in salary and wages, contributes $1.75 trillion in Federal and state and local taxes annually and is a huge source of charitable giving, contributing nearly $100 billion annually to a variety of causes and concerns – nearly 70% of all charitable donations from individuals,” says Holtzman.

The 19 page study notes that by 2032, it is projected that over age 50 Americans will make up about 52 percent of the US GDP. The average wealth of the households of these individuals is almost three times the size of those headed by people ages 25 to 50.

As to technology, Baby Boomers (ages 50 to 68) are heavy users of the internet and social networking and they spend more time online when compared to either Generation X (ages 34 to 49) and Generation Y (ages 14 to 33) consumers. Boomers average online spending over a three month period amounts to $650 outpacing the two younger generations.

Researchers also found that those over age 50 fill nearly 100 million jobs, generating over $4.5 trillion in wages and salaries.

The Longevity Economy is not a passing phenomenon, observes Holtzman, noting that increased life spans will result in a “consistently large over-50 population even after the Baby Boomer wave has crested.”

Holtzman adds, “The particular wants and needs of the Longevity Economy when it comes to consumer spending, housing, healthcare and employment have dramatic implications for business, society and government.” Not only does the Longevity Economy have a strong, net positive economic impact on the nation’s economy, the nation’s age 50 and over “will also continue to serve as a significant resource and safety net for their parents and children.”

A Snap Shot of Rhode Island

Despite being 36 percent of the state’s population in 2013 (expected to reach 38 percent in 2040), the total economic contribution of the Longevity Economy accounted for 46 percent of Rhode Island’s GDP, or $24 billion, noted by AARP’s release of its state specific analysis. The impact on the state’s GDP was driven by $18 billion in consumer spending by over 50 households.

Rhode Island’s $24 billion Longevity Economy GDP supported 54 percent of the state’s jobs (0.3 million), 47 percent of employee compensation ($14 billion), and 52 percent of state taxes ($2 billion), says the state specific economic analysis,

Also, the state specific dated noted that the greatest number of jobs supported by the Longevity Economy were in health care (88,000), retail trade (47,000) and accommodation & food service (33,000). Overall, people over age 50 make up 34 percent of the state’s workforce. Sixty seven percent of the workers ages 50 to 64 are employed compared to 79 percent ages 25 to 49.

Finally, 11 percent of the state’s older workers (ages 50 to 64) are self-employed entrepreneurs, compared with 7 percent of people ages 25 to 49. Forty four percent of these older workers work in professional occupations, compared to 47 percent of the younger workers.

The [Rhode Island] analysis takes a closer look at something we have known for some time,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “Rhode Islanders 50-plus are an important driver of our state’s economy,” she says.

Connell says the data complements findings in a paper published recently by the journal PLOS ONE, a group of international researchers at the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis, the Max Planck Institute and the University of Washington. “It concluded that as retirement approaches and certainly after retirement, leisure time increases. And while there are many who will gear down, relax, travel and devote time to grandchildren (traditional retirement), Baby Boomers – better educated, healthier and with greater access to information than any previous generation of retirees – will have much more time to provide the energy and intellectual capacity, as well as the capital resources to help drive innovation,” she adds.

“With that in mind, AARP partners with the Small Business Administration to support ’encore entrepreneurs’ 50 and older. I agree with SBA Administrator Karen Mills, who says retirees are using their decades of expertise and their contacts to start new businesses and to finally pursue that venture that has been stirring their dreams for all these years,” Connell says.

“So not only do the people who make up the longevity economy represent an economic impact,” Connell added, “they are in a position to be leaders in innovation.”

AARP’s economic data analysis has shattered the age-old myth that a growing older population will ultimately bankrupt the federal and state’s budgets because of the need for increased programs and services for these individuals. Data shows us that America’s oldest generations can be considered the gas that revs the state and nation’s economic engine. Federal and State policy makers need to get this point.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, health and medical care issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

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