I wish I were shocked by the ongoing shutdown of the federal government. I wish I were surprised by the inability of both sides to see past their political bases to achieve a responsible solution and compromise. After recently serving in the Senate, however, I am neither shocked nor surprised.
As concerned as I am about the impasse preventing the government from fully functioning, I am even more concerned about what it means for addressing the systemic issues that certainly will cripple America's future. If compromise cannot be reached on border security and immigration, what hope do we have that our current leaders will tackle the tough issues of debt and deficit, health care, retirement security, and infrastructure?
Anyone who understands the economic concept of opportunity cost knows that delay in addressing these challenges will greatly limit the potential range of solutions.
We cannot continue to hand our children and grandchildren an excessive credit card bill from our generation's reckless spending. The national debt is over $22 trillion and getting dangerously close to exceeding our annual GDP. If the debt is left unchecked, interest on the debt will exceed expenditures on national defense by 2023 and all domestic discretionary spending by 2025. Today, per capita national debt exceeds $67,000 with no end in sight to the growth.
Health care, a great driver of the national debt, is increasingly challenged by inefficiencies and demographics. The U.S. per capita expenditure on health care is nearly $10,000, which is double the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development median expenditure of $4,033. According to estimates from health care experts, inefficiencies account for health care overspending of about 30 percent.
We must make health care more affordable so that it works for young and old. Demographic trends demonstrate real potential for a collapse in our health-care system because spending on the elderly is disproportionately high. Americans age 65 and older, about 15.2 percent of the population today, are projected to be 21.7 percent of the population by 2040. About 6.4 million Americans are 85 years old and older, but that number will more than double to 14.6 million in 2040.
The aging of America further challenges the retirement system. An alarming 68.3 percent of individuals aged 55 to 64 do not have retirement savings even equal their annual income. A hundred million working age individuals do not own any retirement account assets. In the next 20 years we will see a dramatic increase in the number of Americans who will rely only on Social Security for retirement income.
A reasonable response would be to ask Americans to save more, but four in 10 adults acknowledge that they do not have the cash to pay for an unexpected $400 expenditure. Consumer debt is at record levels with credit card debt exceeding $1 trillion.
On top of these critical challenges, we are failing to meaningfully address the ongoing economic risks of a failing infrastructure, the potential of a global pandemic, catastrophic cyber attacks, climate change, and the addiction crisis in America.
If this current shutdown "crisis" illustrates anything, it's the unfortunate and obvious truth that if there is no political courage to address the straightforward issue of border security, there is no hope that our leaders will meaningfully address the very real economic threats facing the future of our country. For all the dysfunction in the current headlines, the real crisis is the failure to address today the real challenges that will affect our children tomorrow.
Right now, more than ever, our country needs elected officials to step up, put ideology aside and work together.
Heidi Heitkamp, a CNBC contributor, represented North Dakota for six years in the U.S. Senate. During her tenure on the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, she pushed to reform the nation's housing finance system, make housing more affordable, and provide relief to small financial institutions.
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