[FOUNTAIN]Demographics can be a curse or a blessingIn the United States, they say no politician can succeed without addressing the concerns of senior citizens. The controversial outcome of the vote in the state of Florida during the 2000 presidential election illustrates the importance of “senior issues.”
It was generally predicted that Republican candidate George W. Bush would easily win in Florida, where his brother Jeb Bush was governor. But the Democrat Al Gore included Medicare reform in his campaign promises, and the strategy proved especially effective in Florida, where the percentage of older people in the population is the highest in the United States. Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore ran neck-and-neck there, and Mr. Bush eked out a controversial win after several court rulings concerning recounts. AARP, a lobbying group for older Americans, has more than 30 million members over age 50, and packs a lot of clout in the United States.
The story is different in Korea, which has a small ratio of both dependent children and the elderly to the working-age population. After the baby boom in the 1960s and 1970s, the birth rate declined dramatically, but Korea has not exploited the situation well and the underside of those demographics is now showing. Kim Tae-hun of the Korea National University of Education linked growing youth unemployment and the trend of early retirement to the baby boom in a recent forum on the aging society. The baby-boom generation dominates, and given the sluggish economy, those over 45 are being forced out of the workplace and persons in their 20s cannot find jobs.
As the baby boomers begin to age, the social structure has to accommodate the demographic changes. Lowering the retirement age is one suggestion, but in a decade or two the productive working population will have declined rapidly and the senior work force will have to be reemployed.
We might someday see a political party for senior citizens and a more politically powerful older generation. Demographic experts emphasize that any population-related issues, including the aging of society, should be addressed and prepared for at least 20 years before a problem becomes serious, if a prescription is to be effective.
We don’t have much time before the “demographic bonus” turns into a nuclear bomb.
by Lee Se-jung
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.