AARP Statement to the ECOSOC High Level Annual Ministerial Review

Publish Date: July  05,  2012

As the Annual Ministerial Review theme focuses on “Promoting productive capacity, employment and decent work to eradicate poverty in the context of inclusive, sustainable and equitable economic growth at all levels for achieving the MDGs,’’ we cannot ignore the current global economic crisis that has impacted many older workers who have been forced out of the workforce and whose retirement benefits have been severely impacted.  AARP is a non-profit, non-partisan social change organization with 38 million members whose mission is to improve the quality of life for all as we age.  AARP research shows that older populations have suffered significantly during the current economic recession.  A 2010 AARP study showed the number of unemployed in the 55+ age group in the United States rising 331 percent just from 2000 to 2009.

Therefore, the link between employment and poverty eradication cannot be discussed without bringing older persons into the conversation.  Due to improved longevity, global life expectancy has increased by more than twenty years since 1950 to reach the current 68 years as per UN statistics. The World Health Organization (WHO) statistics indicate that in the next five years, for the first time in human history, the number of adults aged 65 and over will outnumber children under the age of 5.  By 2050, older adults will outnumber children under the age of 14.  

On the occasion of World Health Day UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon provided the following statistics; in the middle of the last century, there were just 14 million people in the world aged 80 years or older.  By 2050, there will be almost 400 million people in this age group, 100 million of them in China alone. This enormous shift in the age of the world’s population is closely linked to economic and social development, he stated.  He went on to say that primarily due to global public health successes in improving childhood survival and adult health, people are living longer in most parts of the world.  Many high-income countries are already facing rapidly ageing populations.  In the coming decades, low- and middle-income countries will see equally dramatic increases.  Many low- and middle-income countries have neither the infrastructure nor the resources to deal with existing needs, let alone to cope with the much greater demands expected in the future.  The Secretary General suggested that there are many practical and affordable solutions that governments can put in place to help their older citizens lead healthy and active lives.  In addition, countries that invest in healthy ageing can expect a significant social and economic return for the whole community.

However, according to research provided by HelpAge International, the lack of a secure income in older adults is one of the biggest problems facing people in developing countries - few people in poverty can afford to save for older age; family support for older people is under pressure; and fewer than one in five people over 60 receive a pension.  Coupled with income security is the issue of age discrimination in the workforce.   Not only are older workers not being hired, often they are the first to be retrenched.

Going forward, the proportion of younger workers will decline dramatically. According to data from the Urban Institute in Washington D.C., “Over the next decade, instead of having nearly all increases in employment coming from the 25- to 54-year-old age group, fewer than one in three (31 percent) of the added workers will be in this category. Nearly half of the additional workers will come from the 55-and-older category, while about one in five will come from the youth labor force.”

When viewing employment, innovative models should be explored so as to accommodate a multigenerational workforce.  Although some might note that this is a point of contention, there is the opportunity of mentorship and for harnessing the experience and knowledge that older workers provide.  Some companies are already engaged in innovative initiatives as witnessed through AARP’s International Best Employer Awards Program.  These include flexible working time accounts that allow employees to bank compensatory time for sabbaticals or time off for family caregiving; pre-retirement seminars; and employer-provided elder care services. Others offer corporate retirement housing options; one-on-one training to enhance the confidence and employability of older retail workers; and a back-to-nursing training program for former nurses wishing to re-enter the workforce. One company has created the position of corporate demography officer to ensure that demographic dynamics inform corporate decision-making at all levels. Several organizations are conducting research projects on demographic change and the workplace. 

In today’s competitive world market, employers’ ability to succeed and maintain relevance will rely immensely on their ability to attract and retain a more mature and experienced work force. Although challenging in the context of a volatile and uncertain economic reality, the potential for future development is contingent upon proactive and innovative social policy as well as effective age management. Consequently, in the face of an increasingly aging global society and inevitably, an older work force, accommodating to the needs and rights of the aging has become both a social necessity and an economic imperative.

Finally,   AARP stands  behind the recent report by the office of the Human Rights Commissioner on the status of older persons, to call on member countries to address the normative and operational gaps in the human rights  protection of older persons, not only in providing decent work but in all the areas iterated: civil, cultural, political and social.   Since the current national and international programs are inadequate to protect the human rights of older persons, we urge member countries to demonstrate their solidarity by supporting the convention of the rights of Older Persons at the upcoming open ended working group in August 2012.