The Elderly Demographic and the Legislation
Nowadays, the developed world witnesses an acute demographic change, i.e. the ageing of the population, especially in developed countries. According to Jackson (2002), “for most of human history, the elderly were only a tiny minority of the population – never more than 2 or 3 % in any country”. However, this number has already increased rapidly, and it continues to rise: according to the latest UN data, by the year 2050, elderly people are likely to constitute approximately 30% of the overall population. The generation gap widens increasingly and, naturally, influences the domestic politics inside these states.
The most serious problem the ageing tendency causes is the pension system. Obviously, the state officials tend to place this burden on the shoulders of tax payers. However, according to Slater (2008), there will be only about two workers per every pensioner in 2050 in the developed world; in some countries for example, in Japan, the relative part of the active working population will be 30% or so,. Under these conditions, the currently used “pay-as-you-go” principle will not work effectively enough. The part of the GDP allocated for pensions will continue to grow, and the percent of the income received by working people will decline respectively, thus, lowering the general life standards and welfare of the society. Earlier, the retirement legislation used to set a lower age for leaving work. Now, there is a tendency to raise this age – from 55 to 62 years for women and from 60 to 67 years for men (Wells, 2005, p.58). The opponents of such legislative alterations are the employers who find it more profitable to hire young specialists who work more efficiently, despite the lack of experience. There are several ways of overcoming this problem: there are several exits to balance his disproportion; first of all, the retirement age could be lifted a bit closer to the life expectancy mark; secondly, the size of the pension can be cut. In the latter case, elderly people get less benefits; so there will be one more incentive for them to stay socially active. According to Slater (2008), the working older people do not occupy those job places determined for younger people; this is a “prime example of the lump-of-labor fallacy”. Perhaps, one more helpful solution would be to children and grandchildren of these elder people to take a part of responsibility in terms of securing the well-being of senior people. On the 18th of April, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has issued a decree which allows phased retirement for eligible federal employees (Slater, 2008, p.48).
The second ongoing problem is the medical service for the elderly people. Since life expectancy has risen, most of the senior citizens have different health problems. However, there is a lack of financial resources to cover all medical and care needs. Currently, the law prescribes allocation of money for these purposes from the pension tax which all taxpayers are obliged to give to the state. It is clear that changes of the legislative base are needed. However, no such thing has been done yet because this might very likely cause discontent in the wide public circles. Health care providers put their faith and hopes not in the state healthcare system but in the non-governmental organizations, community activity groups and charity funds that partly take responsibility for the issue. The Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) has been initiated and the results of its five-year long work are positive (Jackson, 2002, p.190).
Another problem naturally faced by the ageing countries is the llack of workforce of the younger age. This issue spurs the immigration from less developed countries, the citizens of which are willing to perform the same amount of work for the lower payment and not to lay a claim to receive social payments or guarantees (at least, for the first period of time). However, according to Wells (2005), “given the political resistance to even today’s levels of immigration”, an increased inflow of immigrant workers is unlikely to happen. The issue of immigration that gets more and more intense to substitute for the lack of decent working places for local young people is getting increasingly serious and conflict-prone. This problem is closely connected with xenophobia and intolerance in the recipient society. The history of legislative battles on this question is quite long, starting from 1875 when the first Immigration Regulation Act was signed. Throughout the years, up until the second half of the 20th century, the immigration policy used was really isolationist and severely restricted entrance into the country (Zolberg, 2006, p.69). However, later the need for labor force prompted the state officials to make the laws more moderate. But the problem is the immigrants are very often deprived of certain citizen rights what creates negative tension between the native population and the newcomers. In the 2000s, the legislation again became more restrictive after several amendments in the effort to appease the native citizens. Also, comprehensive immigration legislation, including a plan to introduce a legal status for about 12 million illegal immigrants, was one of Obama’s administration priorities (Jackson, p.140).
It is obvious that nowadays, the age disproportion in the population is a really complex problem that causes numerous controversial issues of political, economic and social character.