14 January 2014

4 Graphs to Explain How As America Gets Older the Economy Moves Slower

An aging population is making the labor market worse on two counts. First, there are simply fewer Americans under 65. Second, the housing industry is suffering as population growth slows and demand for new houses slows with it.

First, if all we looked at was retail sales from 2000 through 2013, it would seem as if the economy as largely recovered.

New house sales, though, tell a very different story. That market is still far off its previous plateau. 

It might be simple to blame the mortgage market for first providing too much financing and then not enough, causing a slump in construction, but demographics might actually better explain this. Older people are less likely to buy new homes than are new families and the under-65 population is dropping.

This doesn't just indirectly impact job creation by gutting an important industry like housing. As the population ages, the percentage of Americans working is dropping. Every month about 200,000 baby boomers are retiring.

Still, something fundamental is changing in our ability to create jobs. It seems that our ability to automate is outstripping our ability to innovate, our ability to reduce costs by laying off people is more advanced and systematic than our ability to create jobs as we create new products, industries, and businesses. 

But meanwhile, demographics may well be eroding demand for new houses and taking away one of the more obvious industries for creating jobs in a recovery. This, it seems to me, is just one more reason to get serious about popularizing entrepreneurship, about making it a policy to systematically create entrepreneurs in this century the same way that we began to systematically produce knowledge workers in the last. As our population ages its even more important that a large percentage of our working age population has jobs.

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