With Donald Trump’s assumption of the American presidency, the 20th-century political establishment and its stale proposals have officially been disrupted. Of the many lessons from his shocking assent is that Americans want innovative solutions that address our toughest problems. As President Trump considers what this will entail, he would be advised to pay attention to one sector of the economy in particular: the aging of America.
Though often overlooked, the combination of 21st century longevity and decreasing birth rates has an impact on the contours of American life that rivals other megatrends like technology or urbanization. President Trump can’t make this same mistake, as aging will shape his ability to accomplish many of his primary goals. For example, the administration will need to consider how its 4-5% economic growth targets can be achieved in the light of a much older America. And it will need to push beyond traditional answers related to “older Americans” – principally Medicare, Social Security, and Retirement – which are far less useful, if even sustainable, in today’s America.
In essence, President Trump needs to lead a wholesale reinvention of how the U.S. approaches aging and the economy. The right policy framework would drive economic growth, create jobs, and boost skills and education. In the process it will be a model for an aging world, as well. Here’s how it might work.
Americans over-60 hold 70% of disposable income, creating a broad and deep consumer base that spreads across healthcare, consumer goods, technology, financial services, leisure, home improvement and others. This market is just waiting to be tapped. They’re ready for “a deal.”
The Trump administration should view older Americans not as a demographic in need of help, support, and subsidy, but as a unique new economic “silver mine.” The White House could push for the tax, regulatory, and labor policies that would liberate this disposable income, thereby unleashing spending and economic growth. Policies could also stimulate healthy levels of saving and employment for a new cultural milieu of active aging, which has evolved far beyond the outmoded “old peoples’ programs” of the 1960s.
A Trump economic policy would also need to understand and then enable the innovation and value inherent in this “silver economy.” This would transform the American marketplace into an engine for business development related to aging – creating jobs, powering economic growth, and making America a global leader in aging.
Many forward-looking businesses are already pursuing this opportunity, and their efforts would swell with the right policy support. For example, Nestle Skin Health, based in Lausanne, Switzerland is tapping the high-growth Chinese market for aging skin through the use and application of their skin hydration product, Cetaphil. The company now has an imaginative relationship with an elder caregiving company based in Beijing, which could be a model to deliver similar benefits to aging Americans and the American market.
Another example is the Tri Glide: a bike designed with greater safety and comfort to appeal to the 70 year-old-rider. Or, consider an anecdote from Nintendo. This technology gaming company gathered a focus group of seniors to discuss whether they would give a Nintendo Wii to their grandchildren. But the Wii was so popular that the seniors clamored for their own, and today all Erickson retirement communities in the U.S. include at least one Wii.
If there is a marketplace for senior spending, it follows that there ought to be a parallel demand for senior employment. And here, too, President Trump could take steps toward one of his most important goals: creating American jobs. Millions of positions could be created if we get rid of the concept of retirement – an outmoded idea dating from the days of the industrial economy – and instead introduce flexibility for work at all ages. Trump of all people, as the oldest person in history to have assumed the U.S. Presidency, should understand the economic and health benefits of staying engaged in the workforce beyond traditional retirement age.
Public policy could enable this flexibility by reducing regulation and revamping the tax code to reflect how 60-, 70- and 80-year-old Americans now live their lives. This would raise levels of employment, while also reducing public spending. Moreover, since active aging is healthier aging, helping seniors to retain current or gain new jobs would also become a core, if subtler, component of good health policy.
Finally, let’s throw in the mix a new vision for education, which recognizes that longevity makes it essential to learn at every stage of our lives, not through our teens or early twenties. Are universities and other centers of education ready? Do employers understand the value of ongoing skill development and enhancement? How will Trump’s Education Department recognize this fundamental culture shift?
The Trump candidacy has been disruptive, and there is every reason to believe his presidency will be equally so. President Trump must work to understand and leverage aging – the most disruptive trend we now face, in America and globally. For the first time in the history of humanity, we’re approaching a world with more “old” than “young,” and many of the so-called seniors are remaining active, healthy, and engaged for longer than ever before. Why wouldn’t public policy take this unprecedented trend into account and have it as one of the strategic drivers for economic growth and jobs creation?