Today’s kids may live to be 100. Here’s what we should do now to set them up for success
“The biggest single thing that we can do for those five-year-olds is drop everything and just fix this climate situation,” journalist and author Bill Kole said to Supercreator News.
The politics of age have been at the center of the online discourse in the wake of Senate Republican Leader MITCH McCONNELL’s second freeze in a little over a month a week ago.
But despite intensifying calls for term and age limits in federal office, journalist WILLIAM KOLE, author of the upcoming book The Big 100: The New World of Super-Aging, explained in Thursday’s edition of Supercreator Daily why older Americans’ lock on higher office is only going to intensify as baby boomers age into their 100s.
But Kole also made the case for why we owe it to today’s five-year-olds, one in two of whom will live to be 100, according to research from Stanford’s Center for Longevity, to take steps now that set them up for success later. We also discussed how to nurture our older loved ones, and what surprised him most while writing the book. Below is the rest of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
You write about how lawmakers can put policies in place to support people who are older now and who are retired. Can you share a few examples?
One of the concerns that pops immediately to mind for people who are contemplating that is, ‘Where the hell am I going to find enough money to pay 100 years worth of bills?’ It's a very intimidating thought.
We really have a problem because of the economic disparity in our country and the average American only has saved $30,000 for retirement, which is nothing. So that’s a very scary proposition. We have to find ways to incentivize people to save more and we have to, of course, make sure we pay people a living wage.
And we got to fix Social Security. The funds that underpin it are going to be depleted 10 years from now, and if Congress does nothing, then people are going to have to take a huge pay cut because they're going to have to cut benefits.
How can we set today’s five-year-olds who may live to 100 up for the future?
It's a huge responsibility. Boomers right now, if they don't get their act together collectively are going to carry the shameful label of the first generation to leave the planet in worse shape than they found it. That's really an indictment. But there's a danger of that happening. And of course, I'm thinking mainly about climate change.
Who wants to live to 100 on a planet that's ravaged by violent storms, and as a consequence of other things, famine, thirst, and all of the horrors that we've only really begun to see? This summer was sort of like a sneak preview.
So I think the biggest single thing that we can do for those five-year-olds is drop everything and just fix this climate situation. We're way too late and we're way too slow to respond.
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What can you share from your personal experience with your grandmother who lived to be 100-plus that those of us with aging loved ones could maybe benefit from?
I also have a mother who's 92, she'll be 93 in February. So she's sort of on her own uneasy path to 100, potentially.
But I think we really need to look with great appreciation and compassion at our elders. It's so easy once the blush of youth is off of somebody and we see them later in life, people can just automatically dehumanize an individual. And these are human beings who have loved and lived and experienced so much. And they're just a wealth of information and wisdom. And I think just taking time to sit with them and listen to them and just really value them instead of being patronizing like so many people tend to be towards older adults is really so important.
It also helps fix a problem that I take a deep dive into in the book and that is the loneliness problem. They need us at this time. They've given us everything. If they're our parents, they gave us life itself. The least we can do is make sure that they're comfortable, they're valued, and have the pleasure of our company whenever possible because they deserve it and loneliness kills. Loneliness is—the Surgeon General has proclaimed a public health crisis. So we need to dial in and really value this part of our population.
What surprised you most about writing the book?
I have to say it's the incredible whiteness of the superaging space. I take a really close look at what a white space 100-plus is. In this country, about eight and 10 centenarians are white. White people in America live, on average about six years longer than Black people.
For me, it's a haunting inequity. I can't imagine a greater injustice, honestly, than be robbed of time—time to live, time to love. And this is something we just have got to close this gap and longevity, the racial gap. And it's just unconscionable to me and it really makes me angry that exists.
Weathering, the theory that Black and brown bodies really suffer over time by the cumulative effects of systemic racism is a theory that a lot of scientists, gerontologists and others are coming behind. And it's pretty well documented so there are things we can do to try and fix that and for me, that's gotta be the top of the list.