Silver Tsunami I've heard of silver surfers, but a silver tsunami?

Silver TsunamiI've heard of silver surfers, but a silver tsunami?

It's a tidal wave of people who have reached their golden years, and it's about to hit the US with such force the entire social security system could be swept away in the deluge.

Aieee! Run away - slowly

US baby boomers, born in the years after the end of the second World War, are reaching the age of seniority, and will soon want to collect their retirement benefits. They were the flower children who dropped out at Woodstock, growing up to fuel the economic growth of the 1980s and 1990s. They lived through the Cold War, the birth of rock 'n' roll and the Vietnam war, and they now make up one third of the population of the US.


That's an ageing population explosion

Earlier this month, Kathleen Casey- Kirschling, a retired schoolteacher from New Jersey who was born just after midnight on January 1st 1946, became the first baby boomer to apply for her government pension. She took early retirement, but you can be sure there will be more following after her.

So, she's at the top of the queue

We're looking at a pretty long queue. It's expected that upwards of 80 million people will soon be getting in line behind her.

Golly gosh

Trouble is, America's financial infrastructure may not be strong enough to withstand the wave of baby boomers hitting retirement age. Conservative estimates suggest that the US social security system will buckle under the pressure, and will run out of money by 2041.

Won't the youngsters keep the economy buoyant, and keep grandpa and grandma in comfort so they get on with their jogging?

Alas, the number of people over the age of 65 is set to double over the next 40 years, while the workforce is set to increase by only 20 per cent. That means there won't be enough tax money going into the coffers to pay for the increasing number of pensions. What it boils down to is that, by the middle of the century, statistically every couple will have an old person to look after - not only will they have to bring the kids to the school, they'll have to ferry the old man to and from the gym.

So, what can we do?

Beat the silver surfers back with their own tennis racquets? Social security commissioner Michael Astrue has advised Congress to fix this gosh-darned problem now, though he didn't exactly specify how. "I'm not pushing any one answer," he said, helpfully.

Try at work:Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young are reforming - tell everyone at the box office to brace themselves for a silver tsunami.

Try at home:Silver tsunami alert - Dad's just bought a surfboard with his first month's pension.

Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney is an Irish Times journalist