I’ll bet most of you know that May is Asian American Heritage Month. But how many of you know that May is also Older Americans Month?
Older Americans Month is a good time to recall just how far we have come in recent decades in terms of how we look at aging.
Perhaps nothing about human life has been as widely misunderstood down through the years as old age. One of the most common and most destructive misunderstandings was the belief that for most people, old age was a time of frailty, illness and overall decline — that a country’s older population was a drain on its national economy.
In fact, in 1948, when the United Nations offered its landmark “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” that revered document contained only one passing reference to “old age.” It was way down in the 25th of 30 articles. Old age was listed, along with disability and sickness, as a justifiable reason for not working, which would warrant some sort of welfare assistance from the state.
Today, we see aging in an entirely different light. Why not? Two out of every three human beings who have ever lived to age 65 are alive right now! Many in the medical science community believe the first human who will live to be 150 years old is already among us.
Fifty, of course, is the age everyone becomes eligible to join AARP. Folks turning 50 today can expect to live another 35 to 40 years, or even longer. Better nutrition and lifestyle choices — along with advances in medical care and related technologies — will offer us the probability that we will remain independent, active and creative for an additional 25, 30 or even more of those years.
In the coming years, in other words, increasing numbers of America’s 50-plus population will be working longer, playing longer and taking our economy in new directions. In fact, our increasingly healthy and vibrant 50-and-over population is already spending some $3.1 trillion a year directly on consumer goods and services. By 2032, economic activities serving the wants and needs of our 50-plus population could account for upward of half of America’s Gross Domestic Product!
This phenomenon is becoming known as the “Longevity Economy.” It includes the products 50-plus Americans purchase directly, along with the additional economic activity their spending generates. The Longevity Economy holds the promise of vast new markets for products and services.
And that doesn’t even take into account the value of the volunteer services provided by older Americans. The value of age 50 and over volunteers remains one of our nation’s best-kept secrets.
It seems that more than ever before these days we are turning to volunteer service to help meet the ever-growing needs of our states and communities. Living as we do in this era of economic uncertainty and shrinking public resources, older volunteers are an increasingly vital resource.
Today, more than 9 million AARP volunteers alone are providing nearly $200 million each year in economic impact through programs like our Tax-Aide and Driver Safety programs.
For additional volunteer opportunities, check out the AARP volunteer site (http://www.aarp.org/giving-back/).
So, are older Americans a drain on the U.S. economy? Now THAT’S fake news! Happy Older Americans Month!
Ron Mori is co-president of the Washington, D.C., JACL chapter and manager of community, states and national affairs — multicultural leadership for AARP.