Long time reader Eddie Beaver, who first entered into the field of Geography because of this blog, has a call to arms concerning the aging American population and how geographers can play a role in combating the negative fallout.
A series of groundbreaking transitions are underway in America (the browning of America, job polarization, and others, including intriguing hypotheticals including a significant shrinking of the
public sector). Most prominently among them is what I call the Grey Wave. As we near the point in 2025-3030 when twenty percent or more of America's population is comprised of the elderly with significant spatial variance at the state and county levels, adaptations within our economy, politics and culture are proceeding apace and will only pick up steam moving forward.
Among other terms we are hearing and will hear more of in the future, the dependency ratio alone promises to become a buzzword for years to come as Medicare costs sharply rise and crowd out other government spending. This is of course not just about the Baby Boomers and the so-called Greatest Generation. What happens with them will inform and shape the experiences of the generations following them and so we must also include, among others, the millions of Americans entering their
40's with underwater mortgages, decimated 401K's and atrophying skill sets, and also the millions of young people delaying the start of families until economic conditions improve.
As our communities are acutely affected by actions such as home purchases, school quality and entrepreneurship, how these generations and countless sub-groups navigate relations around a shrinking pie of government resources will at the least be a fascinating, critical subject to pay attention to. To consider just a few others, as nursing homes decline in significance because of cost and quality concerns, as more elderly hold off retirement to try to participate in labor markets and as multi-generational households and proximate residences increase, these trends will be joined by many other potentialities for study and consideration.
What this means for geographers is that we recognize our collective oversight. For too long, the ground around the Grey Wave has been ceded to our knowledgeable colleagues in gerontology, public health, sociology and economics. Yes, there are significant numbers of geographers studying Grey Wave issues already, yet it is abundantly clear we are entering an era with challenges and questions that far exceed even this dedicated group's considerable talents and time.
Popular issues of the day from smart growth to climate change have their place and arguably an overabundance of participants at this point. In every community, around every campus and lurking around every discussion of the present and future is The Grey Wave. It is both macro and micro, qualitative and quantitative, public and private, rural and urban, on the streets and within the GIS, American and worldwide. It even conveniently crosses ideological lines, impacting concerns about social justice and free markets alike.
Face it. Our discipline has a rich body of literature and experience that extends into every facet of The Grey Wave. Its time for some or even many of us to get involved. Unleash the geographers* on the thousands of research questions, policy problems and community issues comprising the Grey Wave.
*especially undergrads looking for research experience.
Eddie Beaver is a Geography Graduate Student at UNC-Greensboro.