The Current Demographic Context of Federal Social Programs

by Peter A. Morrison


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This Note reviews ongoing demographic changes and considers their implications for social legislation and public programs. The two areas of consequence highlighted are the altered family circumstances of children and the aging of the American population. Today's families are profoundly different from those of the past. Single women bear children, couples divorce, and proportionally more childhood years are spent in single-parent families. Contemporary preschoolers typically have mothers who are employed outside the home. These changes have transformed the family settings in which children grow up. As the population ages, the number of elderly will increase, and a growing share of the population will be in the oldest age group. The extremely elderly (those 85 and older) now are only 9 percent of all retirement-aged Americans, but that proportion will reach 24 percent midway through the next century. These developments have several broad implications: (1) changes in family structure and labor force participation patterns are steadily narrowing families' capacity to provide care for children and elderly members; (2) population aging portends an increasing need for long-term care services; and (3) in the future, certain needs of both children and the elderly may spill over into the federal "safety net" programs.

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