Column: A long-term perspective on the economy


Commentary by Joe Clark

Among Bill Gates’ classic observations, the following statement may be the most prophetic: “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.” A long-term challenge our economy is facing today relates to an aging population and workforce.

The Wall Street Journal noted, “For the first time since 1950, the world’s combined working-age population will decline. At the same time, the share of the world’s population over 65 will skyrocket. Previous generations fretted about the earth having too many people. Today’s problem is too few.” This demographic phenomenon is not limited to the U.S. More than 20 percent of the population in Japan, Germany and Italy is older than 65. Here in the U.S. the most congested population segment today is 53-58 years old – precisely the age when many people often retire.

Perhaps not in the next two years but certainly in the next 10, our economy must focus on building a growing workforce as we continue to move from a manufacturing economy to a service-based economy. Machines can’t make great food, paint houses, provide medical care or cut hair. Nor can most service jobs be outsourced. People are required.

As our workforce is depleting and our economy functions on the efforts of people, immigration is a complex but critical issue. Even if today’s birthrate was expanding, children are not capable of replacing the knowledge and experience of retiring Baby Boomers.

The number of workers – especially skilled workers like welders, plumbers and carpenter – is decreasing and none of us want the economy to shrink. The world’s economic leaders, both foreign and domestic, are cognizant of contracting workforces and the fight for new workers will be at the forefront over the next decade.

Mr. Gates is right in his assessment. We have to be diligent in keeping our borders safe today, but looking at the long term, if we lose our economic advantages, our borders will be weaker than they are now. We have challenges my friends. It’s easy to focus on the fear of today but let’s not forget our future.

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