Americans are living longer

Wednesday, March 2, 2005

We live in an amazing age. It borders on the unbelievable. We're talking about the increases in life span and population which have taken place in the United States in the past century.

To understand the full extent of the changes, we need to go back to 1900. In that year -- the start of the 20th Century -- there were 75 million people living in the United States and the average life span was 47 years.

Just over a century later -- in 2005 -- there are 295 million people in the U.S. and the life expectancy of Americans has risen to 77.6 years.

Think about it. Thirty years of additional life ... not just for some, but for many.

The overall impact of increased population and life expectancy is immense. To see how much, let's do the math. First, let's take 47, the average life span in 1900, and multiply times 75 million, the population at the time. That amounts to 3.5 billion combined years of life.

Now, let's look at the current people and life totals. As of Jan. 1, 2005, the U.S. Census Bureau projected the population of the United States at 295,160,302. Based on the current average life expectancy of 77.6 years, that amounts to more than 22,904,416,000 years of combined life.

It's an astronomical total ... difficult to comprehend. Yet, when you think about it, the tremendous increase in living years is the greatest human development of the past century. At no other time in recorded history has there been such a dramatic increase in life expectancy.

Sure, the soaring population poses problems. That's shown by the current debate raging in Washington over how to fund Social Security. Big problems are also on the horizon for Medicare and Medicaid.

And, yet, in our focus on those problems, we are missing the wonderful benefit of being alive today. On average, Americans in 2005 are enjoying 30 more years of life than people living in 1900. And they're living close to 20 years longer on average than were people in 1935 when Social Security came into existence.

It's easy to understand how that causes funding concerns. But it shouldn't keep us from celebrating the tremendous advances which have taken place during our lifetimes ... including a record increase in America's average life span.

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