Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Longer Life Expectancy, Higher Outlays for Medicare and Social Security…

Those predictions come from a recent study by the MacArthur Foundation Research Network for an Aging Society.

The predictions fit a statement I’ve made frequently to audiences during the past five years: As we witness one of the most dramatic demographic changes ever – throughout the world – with the aging of our population, we can expect “more of everything”. On the positive side, more people will live longer, with more resources, staying healthy, wanting to retire later, and seeking volunteer opportunities and other ways to contribute to their communities. On the negative side, more people will live with chronic conditions and disabilities, with few resources, and requiring care for an extended final stage of their lives.

The MacArthur study suggests that “current government projections may significantly underestimate the future life expectancy of Americans.” It predicts that Medicare and Social Security outlays will increase trillions of dollars beyond what many analysts expect.

It notes other impacts resulting from the increase in the aging population, including (on the negative side) the increased dependency ratio and threats to the nation’s fiscal health, and (on the positive side) a more experienced work force, and more productive years for individuals.

We will see an increase in the number of people who want to contribute to their communities by volunteering. However, as Greg Owen noted in a recent letter to the StarTribune, most agencies are not ready to accept an influx of volunteers. If we want to make the best use of the talents of our aging population, we need to construct the infrastructure which can do so.

For a longer description, and references, see the MacArthur Foundation’s Press Releases.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Inaccuracies from the White House Highlight the Importance of Effective Evaluation

Has the federal stimulus program worked? Unfortunately, an objective monitor of the situation, the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, asserts that White House claims regarding the numbers of jobs created may not be accurate (as The New York Times, as well as our Pioneer Press and StarTribune reported on November 20).

According to the Times, the 640,000 jobs “saved or created”, as reported by the White House, could not be verified. “The 640,000 figure, announced by the White House with some fanfare last month, came from reports filed by recipients of the stimulus money, many of which have been shown to be inaccurate or overstated.” The Times further stated: “A series of embarrassing reports – of raises being counted as new jobs, of jobs claimed in Congressional districts that do not exist, of school districts claiming to have saved the jobs of more teachers than they employ – may have ended up undermining confidence in the stimulus program.”

Representative David Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat, opined: “Credibility counts in government, and stupid mistakes like this undermine it.”

Representative Obey understands an old Latin expression which many public officials do not recognize, to their detriment: Falsus in unum, falsus in omnia – which in today’s world could essentially translate as “if you make one mistake or spin one thing incorrectly, everything you say is considered inaccurate”.

Credibility counts in all sectors of society. We need transparency as well. The erroneous White House assertions about the effects of the stimulus bill illustrate the need for effective evaluation and understanding of our public and private programs. In these economic times, with government budgets stressed to the maximum, all of us who devote ourselves to efforts for the betterment of our communities deserve to know what works, what does not work, and how we can spend our tax dollars and charitable contributions as cost-effectively as possible.