Gray Wave Building

We live amidst a graying society.  If the constant walk-in-tub ads and exhortations to buy gold haven’t convinced you, then this story will be a shock.  The Washington Post has a story about a “catastrophic” age demographic mismatch impending in the state of Maine, and what it portends for the nation at large.

This article makes a great case that as the percentage of the population that is elderly increases, the rising cost of labor is making it tougher to fill jobs for senior care.  The seniors needing in-home or nursing home care are in most cases covered, but the jobs just aren’t getting filled.

Maine’s elderly now add up to more than 20% of the total population.  Nursing homes are closing in Maine despite demand.  “Care workers in Maine were paid about $11.37 an hour in 2017, according to an AARP report, with a 2019 minimum wage of $11 an hour.”   One person noted, “Even Dunkin’ Donuts pays you more.”  And the work is probably a lot easier with a lot less paperwork.  Who could blame them? 

And get this: “About one-third of Maine’s physicians are older than 60. In several rural counties in the state, close to half of the registered nurses are 55 or older and expected to retire or cut back their hours within a decade.” 

“From 2015 to 2050, the number of Americans 85 and older will increase by more than 200 percent, while those ages 75 to 84 will rise by more than 100 percent, according to AARP.”

And who takes care of them?  “The United States is projected to have 7.8 million job openings for care workers by the middle of the next decade … The total cost of caring for America’s elderly will double from $2.8 trillion to $5.6 trillion by 2047, a report by the consulting firm PwC found.” 

Ideology aside, the practical point is that this is a big, big problem, and an imminent one.  The economic truism is that we get more of what we subsidize, and the elderly have been subsidized for decades.  Poorly envisioned, badly run programs and unrealistic expectations have led to nearly incomprehensible budget overruns that limit flexibility to respond to higher demand with higher wages, hence, labor shortages.  If physicians were serious about sustainable senior care, they might push for serious, radical reform of these unsustainable programs.  Just wringing one’s hands because there are no open nursing home beds nearby will not encourage anyone to staff them, absent more cash.

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