Senior Sustainability – An Action Plan

The Democratic debate last week featured six candidates presenting their familiar views on Medicare for All, foreign policy, and the age of climate change.

However, the candidates bypassed another age-related issue in plain sight. A tsunami of retirement challenges are mounting as the U.S. population ages. There are 74 million baby boomers who will be 65 or older within the next decade.

Even in our current record-breaking economic expansion, many middle- or working-class seniors do not have enough savings to match their longer lifespans and haven’t planned for rising family caregiving costs.

Responding to this shouldn’t mean more federal spending measures. We have seen enough of those clunkers, and our budget already faces unimaginable future problems.

Instead, it’s time to advocate for “Senior Sustainability.” That means:

  1. Implementing ideas to accommodate employment needs for a new group of saving strapped seniors.
  2. Raising the profile of the just-passed SECURE Act, which encourages employers to get more of their workers into valuable 401(k) matched retirement plans.
  3. Educating younger generations that planning for retirement now is essential. Their life spans may exceed 100 years old. In fact, some studies even indicate a baby born this year could live past 150 years old.

Our target audience should be every American.

Larry Fink, the CEO of Blackrock, oversees the management fund’s $7.5 trillion in assets. Last week, he announced Blackrock’s responsibility plan with the statement that fighting climate change and sustainability "should be our new standard for investing.” Corporations in Blackrock’s portfolios will be urged to abide by directives from a “Sustainability Accounting Standards Board."

We should broaden sustainability standards to include public awareness on keeping the nation’s retirement savings growing with our needs. That will require educational tools, new medical technologies and creative thinking about how our aging population can lead productive, independent, longer lives without burdening future generations with trillions of dollars of debt.

Our demographic shifts will require an even stronger economy than our current one. Unfortunately, there is too much willful blindness about the key policies that lead to real economic growth. Free market policies lead to a vibrant business community, record unemployment, and sustained stock market returns that build savings and retirement funds. The policy prescription we have is already clear — A strong economy lifts all boats.

Instead of demonizing “corporations," Democratic candidates should be encouraging our business community to help workers save more aggressively for retirement.

"The job of public policy is to make it easier for everybody to do what successful people are doing,” writes columnist David Brooks. It is not to practice class warfare.

And when it comes on how best to prepare people for retirement, let’s recall the words of Mary Kay, the colorful, lively founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics. Long ago, this trailblazing entrepreneur told her sales force, "From birth to age of 14, a woman needs good parents and good health. Then from 14 to 40, she needs good looks. From 40 to 60, she needs personality. And after 60, I’m here to tell you what you need is cash!”

The way to get people more cash of their own for retirement is to grow the economy.