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步日本后尘?几百万美国人可能没机会退休

彭博社 2019年01月29日

今后几年,美国老年人继续工作的压力可能有增无减。因为赡养退休人士的年轻劳动者增长放缓,甚至可能不增反降。

传统上,美国人希望退休后过得安逸些。在办公室或者工厂工作四十载以后,60多岁便卸下工作的重担,在生命的最后几十年与亲朋好友悠然度过,回忆生命里的美好。但金融危机肆虐之后,越来越多的美国老年人选择留在职场。

有人认为这一趋势比较积极,有助于经济发展。也有人感到不安,因为很明显不少老年人继续工作只是因为不工作就没法养活自己。其中有些人因为房产市场崩盘失去了财富,有些是因为储蓄不足,或是子女收入不高无力赡养。总之,退休人士减少怎么看都不太妙。

今后几年,美国老年人继续工作的压力可能有增无减。因为赡养退休人士的年轻劳动者增长放缓,甚至可能不增反降。

就在十年前,美国还是生育率极高的发达国家。全国总体生育率约为2.1,意味着美国女性一生中平均生育2.1个孩子。该水平能保证人口长期稳定。但之后美国的生育率下滑,2016年降至1.8,意味着长期来看人口将萎缩。

主要原因是拉美裔生育率下降,该人群生育率逐渐接近其他族裔。大萧条无疑也是生育率走低因素之一。人们对收入和财富的预期不断降低,也更加担心生儿育女对家庭财务的影响。

生育的孩子减少最终意味着,退休人群越来越庞大,赡养的年轻劳动力却越来越少。结果是投入社会保险和医疗保险系统的资金减少,要么降低退休金,要么上调退休年龄,或者政府赤字不断增长。从过往经历推测,美国人将工作更多年。

20世纪80年代末,美国的生育率下降后迎来反弹。可正如经济学家莱曼·斯通所说,出于一些原因,类似历史可能不会重演。一方面,住房成本居高不下且持续提升,而抚养和教育的成本却丝毫没有减少的迹象。为能在就业市场中顺利发展,劳动者需要接受更高层次的教育,美国的家庭因而推迟育儿计划,所以新生儿减少。斯通预计,美国生育率最低可能达到1.5或是1.4,与日本和一些欧洲国家差不多。

美国人口历来有一大增长来源:移民。有了低技能的移民帮忙,抚养孩子的成本比较低,养起来也比较容易。高技能的移民收入更多,纳税也很多,利用政府的服务却很少,他们对国家财政的正面贡献相当大。

可是,美国吸纳的低技能移民人数下降,抚养成本料将增加。美国总统唐纳德·特朗普的政策和言论让美国对海外精英不再像过去一样友好,高技能移民可能很快减少。

换言之,美国也许很快会失去人口增长的两大动力,逐渐成为老年人增多、人口不断萎缩的国家,年轻人背负赡养老人的负担更重,老人也不得不延长工作时间,即使在到了过去的退休年纪也不能放弃工作。

在这方面,美国将步日本的后尘。日本保持低生育率的时间比美国久得多,直到最近也没有多少移民流入。即便移民人口有所增加,大部分也都是低技能人群。由于薪资很低,毫无竞争力,企业文化又僵化,日本很难吸引高技能的国外人才。

因此,日本的社会保障体系承受着巨大的压力。随着人口老龄化加剧,日本一再调升退休年龄,削减福利,对劳动者加税。日本还为老年从业者提供了工资补贴,如果推迟退休就可以拿到更高的退休金。

胡萝卜加大棒的组合拳促使日本老年人留在劳动力大军之中。60岁到64岁仍在工作的男性和女性国民都比过去增加了许多,65岁到69岁国民的就业水平回升到20世纪90年代“失去的十年”之前的较高水平。2012年经济复苏以来,65岁以上的日本就业国民估计已经增加约200万人。

有些人称之为奇迹,或者说是好消息。将大批老年人留在职场,的确帮助日本在缺少高技能移民和年轻人的形势下摆脱了经济停滞。可这真是美国理想的对策吗?让六七十岁的爷爷奶奶辈站柜台办公难道就是胜利,还是无奈的必然?

假如希望避免重蹈日本的覆辙,美国要采取行动避免形成类似日本的人口结构。为了降低育儿的成本,除了政府给予育儿方面的税收优惠,普及学前教育,还要参考美国参议员伊丽莎白·沃伦的建议,切实降低住房成本,而且刻不容缓。此外,美国应该果断调整特朗普对高技能移民的政策,大幅增加发放基于就业的绿卡,采用加拿大式的积分系统,吸引国外大批高技能的人才移民到美国。

总之,与其逼着老人工作到死,不如确保年轻一代劳动者健康稳定。(财富中文网)

译者:Pessy

审校:夏林

Traditionally, Americans could look forward to a comfortable retirement. After four decades in an office or a factory, sometime in their 60s they would lay down their burdens and enjoy a final couple of decades with time to relax, spend time with family and friends, and reflect on their life. But since the financial crisis, older Americans have been increasingly staying in the workplace:

Some see this as a positive trend, because it adds to the economy. But others rightfully view it with trepidation, because there’s the distinct possibility that many of these elderly people just can’t afford to retire. Whether their nest eggs were wiped out in the housing crash, or they just didn’t save enough, or whether their kids don’t make enough money to support them, the decline of retirement seems like an ominous development.

The pressures on older Americans to work will likely only become greater in the coming years. This is because the young, working population needed to support retirees will see slower growth, and possibly outright shrinkage.

As recently as 10 years ago, the U.S. had unusually high fertility rates for a developed nation. The total fertility rate — the number of children a woman can be expected to have over her lifetime — was about 2.1 children per woman, which is the level required for long-term population stability. But since then, the rate has fallen to 1.8 in 2016, implying long-term population shrinkage:

Much of this is due to a fall in fertility among Hispanics, whose birth rates are converging with those of other groups. The Great Recession was undoubtedly a trigger as well; permanently lower expectations of income and wealth made child-rearing seem like a more financially daunting prospect.

Fewer kids means, eventually, fewer young workers to support an increasing population of retirees. This will result in less money being paid into the Social Security and Medicare systems, requiring either cuts in benefits, a higher retirement age or ever-ballooning deficits. Past experience suggests that Americans will be asked to work longer.

The U.S. bounced back from falling fertility once before, in the late 1980s. But as economist Lyman Stone has written, there are reasons why history may not repeat itself. High and increasing costs of housing, child care and education show no sign of reversing. The need for ever-higher levels of education in order to thrive in the U.S. job market is causing families to delay childbirth, which results in fewer children. Stone projects that U.S. fertility rates could fall as low as 1.5 or 1.4 — the levels that prevail in Japan and some European countries.

There is one more source of population growth that the U.S. has traditionally depended on — immigration. Low-skilled immigrants make it easier to raise kids by providing cheap child-care services. High-skilled immigrants earn more and pay a lot of taxes, while using few government services themselves, meaning that their fiscal contribution is enormously positive:

But low-skilled immigration to the U.S. has declined, meaning that more expensive childcare is on the horizon. And high-skilled immigration may soon taper off, as President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric make the country less hospitable for the world’s best and brightest.

In other words, the U.S. may soon find itself without its two big long-term population boosters, and wind up as a graying, shrinking nation, with young people burdened with supporting ever-more old people, and the elderly themselves forced to work long into what used to be the golden years.

In this, the U.S. will be following in the footsteps of Japan. Japan has had low fertility for much longer than the U.S., and until recently had little immigration. Even now, although immigration has been increased, it’s mostly of the low-skilled variety — with uncompetitive low salaries and an ossified corporate culture, Japan has had great difficulty attracting high-skilled foreigners.

As a result, the country’s social security system has come under great strain. As the country grew older and older, Japan repeatedly raised the retirement age, cut benefits and raised taxes on the working population. It also created a wage subsidy for elderly employment, and allowed older people to claim higher total benefits if they delayed their retirements.

This combination of carrots and sticks successfully pushed older Japanese people to stay in the labor force. Both men and women aged 60 through 64 began working much more than before, while employment levels for people aged 65 through 69 recovered to the high levels that had prevailed before Japan’s lost decade in the 1990s. People over 65 are estimated to have raised the country’s employment levels by about 2 million since the economic recovery began in 2012.

This is being hailed as a miracle or good news in some quarters. And it’s true that putting armies of old people to work has helped Japan arrest its economic stagnation despite its lack of skilled immigration or young people. But is this really the solution that the U.S. should want? Is putting grandma and grandpa behind a store counter or in an office into their late 60s and 70s a victory, or a grim necessity?

If the U.S. wants to avoid Japan’s fate, it needs to take steps to avoid Japan’s population structure. Urgent measures to make housing cheaper, such as those suggested by Senator Elizabeth Warren, should be paired with generous child-tax credits and universal pre-K education, in order to bring down the costs of having children. And the U.S. should emphatically reverse course on Trump’s policies toward skilled immigrants, dramatically expanding the number of employment-based green cards and implementing a Canadian-style points-based system for letting in large numbers of skilled foreigners.

Keeping a healthy, stable population of productive young workers is better than working until we drop.

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