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Life and death - but mostly life - I

In 2003 (most recent data) 19,408 people lived too long.

In what seems to me to be the most under-reported story I can think of, the death rate is declining noticeably. In 2003, 2,448,288 people in the U.S. died. In 2002 2,443,387 died. So, 4,901 more folks left this life. "What about it", you might ask. Well there were 2,865,000 more Americans, and 19,409 should have died, using the 2002 death rate. Our average age is moving up at nothing short of an astonishing rate. (Although one could argue that it can't move up more than one year per year.....).

Why is this happening? Lots of reasons. Statin drugs are extending the lives of heart attack victims, or preventing heart attacks all together. The percentage of people driving drunk and killing themselves (sad) or killing others (tragic) is down. Seat belts, air bags, crumple zones better brakes and tires. Higher survival rates for premature babies (big statistical impact of living to a normal age length vs. dying less than a year old). No significant influenza epidemics (this of course could happen at any time and reverse this trend). A dramatic reduction in smoking. No major war casualties (e.g. WWI and WWII). Widespread availability of heat and air conditioning. Hip replacement surgery. Social Security enabling healthier diets for retirees. Vitamins. Air conditioning. Open heart surgery.

Twenty five years ago, I was at a futurist conference where the keynote speaker said that there were widespread developments that would cause more people to live into their seventies and eighties, but not much happening to lengthen life. That is now changing: the study of life extension is beginning to attract real scientists.

One postulated recently that if you are under 40 today, and you make it to 85 (so alive in the years after 2061) you'll live to be 125 or more. If you are reading this and you are under 40, the odds of hitting 85 are pretty good if you don't smoke and avoid being struck by a drunk driver.

The societal effects of this are, of course, nothing short of monumental. We and our elected officials have shown no capacity for putting Social Security on any kind of sound financial footing. An amazing number of our citizens are currently in their fifties with no savings - how can they survive for thirty or forty years of retirement? And what happens to Social Security when life expectancies jump twenty and thirty years? Start saving now bro; there ain't going to be anything left after the baby boomers start hitting 110....

How are jobs and job opportunities going to work with healthy 90 year-olds holding down positions? What is the effect on roads and transit - after all, if I'm 106 and healthy that still doesn't mean that I've got good reaction time and eyesight.

What are the demands on the health care profession? Are we creating enough docs and nurses and hospital beds?

After a surge in profitability (at least the way I figure it at the moment) life insurers begin to have difficulty selling products - after all, if you are likely to live to 115, why buy a policy younger than, say, 50?

The effect on government budgets at every level, are devastating. Most governmental jobs have comfortable pensions that start at 25-35 years of service. Those are already straining many budgets. What if all those retired teachers and fireman live another fifteen years beyond the actuarial forecast? Big funding problem there Mr. and Ms. Taxpayer.

I'll have more to say on this topic.


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