The EDA Center | at the University of Minnesota  
Commentaries on Greater Minnesota

Periodically we will present commentaries on topics of interest to community and economic developers across rural Minnesota. Below is a list of all commentaries with the most recent listed first.

 

Commentaries
The Boomers are Getting Tired
June 2010
Jack M. Geller, Ph.D.
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In 1998 Tom Brokaw authored a book chronicling the accomplishments of the American cohort known as "The Greatest Generation." These children of the Great Depression, World War II soldiers and liberators were clearly remarkable not only in their accomplishments, but in their passion for chasing the American dream. This generation raised our collective standard of living, established the American suburbs and left an unmistakable mark on both American and world history. But in spite of their achievements, it may turn out that it will be their children, the "Baby Boomers" who will leave a longer lasting impact on American society.

These boomers, who were born between 1946-1964, represent the largest demographic cohort in American history. Often characterized as the "pig in the python," the boomers have owned this country for a generation now. Reared in the turbulent 1960's with a disdain for the status quo, they are not only the largest, but the best-educated, healthiest and wealthiest in American history. Collectively, they represent a truly remarkable and successful professional class. But time does not stop for anyone; and the leading edge of the boomers who were born in 1946 know all too well that they will begin turning 65 in 2011. Over the next three decades these boomers will redefine what it means to a senior citizen in America. Unfortunately, regardless of their efforts to redefine retirement and senior citizenship, the sheer size of this cohort transitioning into their senior years will greatly tax our current health care system and have a serious impact on the Minnesota workplace.

For years now the largest demographic cohort in Minnesota has been school-aged children; i.e., those between the ages of 5-17. This demographic group is not only large, but they demand a great deal of public services; and as a result, the financing of our public K-12 education system has been the largest single expense category in our state budget. But according to our state demographer, within 10 years there will actually be more residents in Minnesota aged 65 and over than there are children between the ages of 5-17. The impact of such a large cohort transitioning their heath care needs from private insurance to public insurance (through Medicare and Medicaid) will challenge our state and federal budgets.

According to our state economist and the most recent state budget projections, Minnesota's economy grows on average 3.9% per year, while its state expenditures on health and human services has been annually growing on average 8.5%. As a result, over the past 10 years the health and human services budget has ballooned and has overtaken higher education spending and the majority of other expenditure categories. Further, this growth has occurred without the influence of boomers transitioning to senior citizenship. So the question is, as the number of boomers overtakes the number of school children in Minnesota, will the health and human service budget become the single largest expenditure category in the budget? Left alone, will there be adequate future funding for K-12 education, roads and bridges, economic development, etc., or will health care expenditures overtake everything?
Of course the other concern is the issue of replacing this well-educated and talented group of boomers as they transition out of the work force and into retirement. Clearly, the departure of boomers from the active workforce will leave a very large hole to fill and worker shortages will once again become evident. And while that may be good for future job-seekers, there is a real question as to whether this future workforce will be qualified to fill many of the highly-skilled jobs that these boomers are exiting. Unfortunately, the prospects are not good.

Current demographic projections suggest a dramatic slowing of the growth of our future workforce, with migration becoming the single largest source of future workers in Minnesota. But unlike Minnesota's economic immigrants of the past who came from Iowa, Wisconsin and the Dakotas, the majority of our current immigrants come from East Africa, Southeast Asia, Mexico and Eastern Europe. Unfortunately, these new Minnesotans are not currently experiencing the academic success needed to fill these higher-skilled jobs being exited by the boomers; and that may have a critical impact on the types of future businesses that we will develop and grow in Minnesota.

Just as the baby boomers take on the task of redefining senior citizenship in America, their demographic transition may collaterally redefine the future of Minnesota.
Geller is professor & head of the Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences at the University of Minnesota, Crookston. He also serves as the director of the federally-funded EDA Center at UMC. He can be reached at gelle045@umn.edu

This document was prepared by the University of Minnesota, Crookston under award number 06-66-05709 from the Economic Development Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Development Administration or the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.

 
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