President’s Message TOM WILDSMITH
Talkin’ ’bout My Generation
I LOVE MY GENERATION. It’s vibrant, creative, and colorful. We were born at an exciting time, and have
seen remarkable advances in technology. Our generation transformed both popular culture and politics. Now
we’re challenging the nation yet again—and this time it’s not because of our youthful idealism. No, this time
it’s because there are so many of us, and we’re getting old.
We’re also living longer, and we’ve had fewer
children than our parents did. Recently, it seems
as if the post-war economic boom that our parents enjoyed has disappeared forever. Taken
together, these demographic and economic trends
are creating a cluster of related challenges affecting every aspect of our society—and every area of
The development of social insurance programs designed to protect seniors from poverty
is one of the outstanding political achievements
of the 20th century. Social Security and Medicare
have changed what it means to be old in our society, and millions of Americans depend on these
programs. But the aging of our population places increasing burdens on these programs.
Far too many of us are unprepared for retirement. Stagnant
wages have limited our ability to save. Low interest rates and
investment losses have kept what we have saved from growing
the way we might have hoped. Many of us face the very real
possibility of outliving our income. At the same time, economic
and demographic changes have placed increasing pressures on
both public and private pension programs.
We have seen revolutionary advances in medicine, and more
are on the horizon. Modern medicine offers not just longer lives,
but longer healthy lives. My family and I have benefited personally from some of these advances. Medicare has ensured that
virtually all older Americans have access to basic health insurance—but due to limitations in the traditional Medicare benefit
structure, most seniors need some form of supplemental coverage, either through a Medicare Advantage plan or a Medicare
Supplement policy. As medical science advances, costs have
risen as well.
Retirement can be a time of growth, exploration, and ac-
tivity. But when physical or mental limitations intervene, we
may need help with the day-to-day activities of life. This help
goes beyond medical services—the diagnosis and treatment of
disease—to a basic need for someone to take care
of us when we can no longer care for ourselves.
The safety net provided by Medicaid is limited,
and very few of us have any form of private long-
term care insurance.
Aging safely and comfortably requires more
than just medical care. New technology may allow
us to safely remain active and independent longer. I love to drive. The day I turned 16 I insisted
that my dad get up at the crack of dawn so I could
get my license before I went to school that morning. I still love to drive … but the headlights just
don’t seem as bright as they once were. Seem. It’s
not the headlights; my night vision simply isn’t
as good as it once was. My hope is that self-driving cars will be
available before I lose my independence.
We can meet these challenges, both individually and as a
society, but first we have to recognize them. These challenges
are all driven, at least in part, by increased longevity and shifting demographics. Because we’re living longer, healthier lives,
many of us will have the opportunity to work longer, perhaps
shifting into second careers that better reflect our personal goals
and aspirations. Knowledge is power—as is advance planning. I
would encourage you to take a look at the Actuaries Longevity
Illustrator, which we jointly developed with the Society of Actuaries. It’s designed to help individuals understand how long
they might actually live.
Speaking to my generation, a little of our “youthful” idealism—and political engagement—is needed as well. The sooner
Social Security and Medicare’s long-term financial challenges
are addressed, the easier it will be to solve them. The Academy
website has a series of 2016 Election Guides covering topics including Social Security, Medicare, health care, long-term care
and lifetime income. Whatever our individual political affiliations, we all have a civic duty to actively engage in the political
process—to educate ourselves, understand the candidates’ positions, and vote. Let’s make a difference one more time.