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Citations Needed

Dec 6, 2023

“Aging population to hit U.S. economy like a 'ton of bricks',” Reuters reported in 2021. “Aging Is The Real Population Bomb,” the International Monetary Fund cautioned earlier this year. “How an aging population poses challenges for U.S. economy, workforce and social programs,” PBS declared in June. “Why we’re borrowing to fund the elderly while neglecting everyone else,” The Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell wrote just this past November.

Year after year, it seems, American media issues the same warning: The population of the US, due to - among other factors - rising life expectancy and falling birthrates, is getting older, which spells doom for our economy. A graying public, we’re told, will inevitably upend the labor force, destroy productivity, bleed programs like Medicare and Social Security dry, and thus place an undue burden on the younger population.

But the premises for this panic are based on misleading stats, goofy non-sequiturs, and misdirected faux class warfare. So, why do media keep insisting the olds are out for your hard-earned money? Who gets to shape our understanding of what an aging population actually means economically or socially? How does this narrative shift the burden from the state to the individual in terms of managing retirement benefits and systems of care? And what are the real harms of treating people over the age of 65 like they’re a cancer on society?

On this episode, we examine the narrative that an aging population is necessarily dire, looking at how it’s instrumentalized to gut public benefits for seniors and thus for everyone, advance the financialization of retirement, and reframe the conflict between rich and poor as one between young and old.

Our guest is social security expert Nancy Altman.