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A census warning.

Byline: The Register-Guard

In a new report, the U.S. Census Bureau says the elderly population of the United States might double over the next 25 years. Over the same period, the bureau says the number of working-age people will increase by only 15 percent. The numbers are important in terms of public policy on a broad front, and especially policies involving Social Security and Medicare.

Unfortunately, the Census Bureau termed this an "aging crisis." Having more people live longer, heathier lives is not a crisis. Quite the contrary. It's a breakthrough in medicine, health and quality of life.

But the demographic shift toward a population that includes a greater percentage of older people deserves serious attention in the executive and legislative branches of the federal government. What the numbers mean is that more senior citizens will be dependent on Social Security and Medicare, but there will be fewer workers contributing to those programs. It's a given that if the existing system isn't changed, by 2016 - 14 years from now - the Social Security system will begin paying out more in benefits than it takes in from payroll taxes.

Feel-good political posturing - allowing private investment of Social Security funds, tweaking the system's tax mechanisms, etc. - don't address the fundamental issue of more seniors and fewer workers. The Bush administration and congressional leaders need to get serious about this issue now. Otherwise, there will be a crisis in just over a decade.

The Census Bureau's report contains other important data. For example, it says that the senior population in other "more developed" countries (the United States falls into this category) will see a 46 percent increase in their senior population by 2025 and will witness a drop in working-age population by 7 percent. "Less developed" countries will experience a whopping 130 percent growth in their elderly populations and a 44 percent increase in working-age populations.

In raw numbers, the report shows that in 2000, when the last census was conducted, the United States ranked second in the world in the number of people aged 80 and older, with 9.2 million. China led with 11.8 million in the 80-or-over age group. India, Japan, Russia, Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, France and Spain rounded out the top 10. On the other end of the scale, the United States ranked sixth in the number of children age 5 or under, with 19.2 million in that category. India led this with 116.8 million children 5 or under, followed by China, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, the U.S., Brazil, Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Mexico.

Such numbers allow useful comparisons, but it's important to remember that each number represents a human being. And because of that, the administration and Congress had best gear up soon to reform the Social Security and Medicare systems. Bipartisan agreement should be possible, but to achieve it, the president and congressional leaders in both parties need to cast aside ideological blinders and move toward reform.
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Title Annotation:New report confirms aging `crisis'; Editorials
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Feb 22, 2002
Previous Article:Proposed reductions are heavy in professional-technical area.
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