As the recovery stutters along, one sector remains forever rosy. Over the past year, health care has added an average of 27,000 jobs per month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Health care jobs keep going up and up and up, from 8 million in 1990 to 14 million today, reports Business Insider.
On Jan. 1 of this year, the oldest members of the baby boomer generation hit their 65th birthday. From that start date, an average of 10,000 baby boomers a day are expected to retire until 2030, reports the Pew Research Center. By 2050, one in five Americans will be 65 or older.
And thanks to better nutrition and medical care, those over age 85, the "oldest old," are expected to grow by 377 percent between 2006 and 2050, says a 2006 report by the Center for Health Workforce Studies at the University of Albany's School of Public Health.
That's a lot of older people, whose bodies tend to cause a little more trouble. They require a lot more prescription medication, and a lot more nursing homes and home health care services. Eighty-four percent of those 65 and older suffer from at least one chronic condition, like cancer, heart disease and diabetes, according to the Center for Health Workforce Studies report.
In summary, demand for health care is rising, and fast.
And the supply of providers is waning, because many of them are baby boomers who are nearing and reaching retirement age.
A report to Congress in January 2008 warned of an impending labor shortage, as baby boomers retired. Since the recession hit in full force just a few months later, much of the report seems sadly outdated. But it's prediction on health care remains worryingly true.
Hospitals and health care services are "baby boom dependent industries": baby boomers make up more than 42.1 percent of their workforces. By 2020, the supply of registered nurses is expected to be 29 percent below what's needed, according to the Center for Health Workforce Studies report. The study also predicts shortages of pharmacists, clinical psychologists, nursing home administrators, and physicians with geriatric specialties.
While some see aging baby boomers as an impending strain on our country's resources, others see a growing market. Older Americans are more educated than any generation before them, and in an information age, they are far more sophisticated consumers. They also have more disposable cash.
Ken Dychtwald saw this coming a long time ago. He prophesied the "Age Wave" in 1989, in his book of that title. He now runs a consultancy with the same name, as Forbes reports. He persuaded Centrum to create Centrum Silver: a vitamin for the graying American. He also pushed Johnson & Johnson to release a painkiller container for the arthritic hand: Tylenol Arthritis Pain.
He's thought up thousands of new products and services. What about "smart pants" that prevent falls? Or a device that fits in your toilet bowl, tests your waste, and tells you the specific cocktail of supplements you need?
And the market is hungry for innovation. Some older Americans have begun to inject themselves with hGC, a hormone distilled from the urine of pregnant women, to keep their levels of testosterone high.
Age defiance has become a booming industry. "Humanity is finally in a position to shed its acceptance of disease and death and instead launch a true offensive against it," writes futurist Sonia Arrison in her book: "100 Plus: How the Coming Age of Longevity Will Change Everything, From Careers and Relationships to Family and Faith."
For those in college who are worried about the labor market that will greet them on their way out, or for all the laid-off Americans thinking about what extra skills are worth acquiring, or for budding entrepreneurs who are dreaming up the next big thing, take note: These health care numbers show no sign of slowing. Most baby boomers plan to stick around for a while yet.
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