I recently heard a news story that pointed out in Minnesota we are reaching the point where the portion of the population 65+ is going to exceed ages 5-17 in grades K-12 (according to the Minnesota State Demographic Center).

Between 2010 and 2030, the number of Minnesotans 65+ is expected to double and make up 20% of the state’s population. This is the first time in history Minnesota has seen this population inversion. The situation is aggravated by the fact that not only are we an aging population, but also a shrinking population, with a declining fertility or birthrate. Most of us think this is an interesting fact, but so what?

I have often joked that I want to see our young people do well because they are going to be paying my Social Security. Today my Social Security is being paid by that shrinking group of those working and paying FICA taxes.

As the portion of population of working age shrinks, those paying into Social Security also shrinks, and each will have to pay more, or benefits will shrink, or retirement will occur at a later age, or the Social Security system will go into the red.

This population shift would be serious if the only problem was Social Security, but Social Security is only one of the symptoms.

Those of working age are the producers of our society. They produce the wealth, the products and provide the services. For us seniors today, the people who take care of our needs whether healthcare workers, medical staff or just things like transportation, home maintenance services, etc. are in the worker age group.

As the number of seniors grow and worker group shrinks, who will fill those support roles? Who will be there to produce the wealth necessary to keep our nation great? Who will serve in the military to defend the nation?

Of course, the U.S. is not the only nation facing this inversion of the populations age. Japan in particular has been dealing with an aging and declining population growing problem for years. The U.S., like Japan, is faced with the problems of an aging and shrinking population due to longer life spans and falling fertility rates.

In 2014, 25.9% of Japan’s population was over 65, and by 2050 about 33% will be above 65. In this same time period, the total population will have gone from 127 million to 97 million (according to Wikipedia).

It is easy to see what the problems are, but what are the solutions? One thing to keep in mind is that the earlier we recognize the problem, the easier the solutions.

One solution is increasing productivity, and this is happening with increased use of automation and robots. The strong interest in vehicles that can drive themselves may be a result of our population inversion. But, remember as robots take over the rote jobs, it will put a growing requirement on a more skilled and educated work force, and we will need an education system able to meet the need.

Another way to address the issue of an aging and shrinking population is to increase the fertility of our population. My guess is most of us do not want government getting involved in the bedroom promoting procreation, but what if we made it less difficult and expensive to have and raise children.

Reducing healthcare costs would reduce burden of having and taking care of children. Even more important would be reducing the cost of daycare. Many young families depend on two or more incomes, and the high cost of daycare can be a strong motivation for the use of birth control.

Another important solution to this aging shrinking population issue is immigration. An answer to the aging and shrinking population are currently beating down the doors to enter our country.

We hear how we must protect our borders from the criminals illegally entering our country. The vast majority of these people, whether they are Latinos from Central America or Muslims from Africa and the Middle East, are just families trying to escape the violence in their homelands. They are criminals because we have defined them that way, rather than what most are just people asking for asylum.

Today many of the people taking care of our seniors were previously migrants seeking asylum or a better life in the U.S. The migrants of today are one of the solutions to our shrinking and aging population.

The demographers have identified a growing problem for Minnesota and the country. Our population is shrinking and aging. Now we can decide whether we bury our heads in the sand or put in place solutions that will mitigate the impact on our state and nation in the future.

As a senior today I hope we decide to implement solutions soon.

Jim Weygand is a former Carver city councilor and vice chair of Carver County Democrats-SD47. He wrote this column on his own behalf.

Community Editor

Mark Olson, the Chaska and Chanhassen community editor who has worked in Carver County for 20 years, makes any excuse to write about local history. In his spare time, Mark enjoys perusing old books, watching blockbusters and taking Midwest road trips.

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