A pair of controversial articles caught our eye here at AgingOptions during the past week concerning the idea of “targeted lockdowns.” In layman’s terms, that means requiring those most susceptible to becoming seriously ill from the coronavirus – specifically seniors – to remain stuck at home while the rest of society goes on with their lives. Does that sound far-fetched? Not according to retirement expert and author Chris Farrell who takes the whole idea extremely seriously and fears the notion is attracting widespread attention.
Senior Lockdown Means Isolating Society’s Older Citizens
We found Farrell’s most recent article here on the NextAvenue website. “An idea is gaining traction among some economists and scholars to deal with the pandemic in America,” he writes: “Isolate and lockdown older Americans, possibly until there is a vaccine. Everyone else gets to go back to work and regain something resembling normalcy.” Farrell says that proponents use various euphemisms to describe this idea, including “shielding” or “cocooning.” But whatever you call it, says Farrell, this proposal to isolate those 65 and older as a way to stem the pandemic is “wrong, deeply wrong.”
In his article, Farrell calls the idea of age-based segregation “Orwellian.” The concept is doomed from the start, he claims: it will “undermine the economy’s vitality, betray society’s values and won’t contain the virus.” One aging expert, Ruth Finkelstein of Hunter College, put it equally bluntly. “Even if we made the value decision that we’re going to isolate people who are over sixty, sixty-five, seventy — you pick — out of the economy, out of the labor force for their own sake and all the rest of our sakes, it won’t work,” she told Farrell.
Senior Lockdown Suggested by MIT Economists to Fight the Pandemic
The idea of targeted lockdowns gained national attention a few months ago when four MIT economists wrote a paper recommending it. Time magazine then picked up the story and ran this article in its June 1, 2020 issue. We took a look at the Time article in order to get the gist of this controversial, even inflammatory recommendation. “With no end in sight to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. seems to be faced with an unappealing choice,” the MIT economists argued. “If we prioritize saving lives, we court economic ruin. If we opt for economic recovery, we lose friends, colleagues and loved ones. The available options need not be so grim. With the right policy decisions, and well-coordinated action to implement them, America’s possibilities can improve substantially.”
These experts recommend “targeting lockdowns based on health risks – specifically, age,” since, evidence demonstrates, “the mortality risk from COVID-19 is highly correlated to age.” Imposing lockdowns on the elderly, says the Time article, will effectively reduce the death rate while doing less harm to the U.S. economy “as only around 20 percent of those over 65 are still working.” The MIT economists call this policy “a protective measure.”
MIT Economists Recommend an Elder Care Corps to Ease the Burden of Senior Lockdown
To their credit, the MIT Four acknowledge what they call “the mental-health implications of lockdowns.” They would gradually ease restrictions on younger Americans while somehow dealing with the adverse impacts of isolation on seniors. “Technology to communicate with loved ones and better organized social gatherings for the elderly can help,” they blandly assert.
In order to provide hands-on assistance to the 86 percent of seniors who live independently, these economists suggest creation of an Elder Care Corps, paid for by federal COVID-19 relief funds. Corps members would theoretically support isolated seniors with shopping and home-care services, and would be drawn from unemployed, volunteers, recent college graduates, and even the military.
Regardless of the specifics, the MIT Four believe senior lockdowns can help save the economy and save lives at the same time. “Making lockdowns age-specific is an important pillar for an improved public policy,” they conclude in the Time article. “Our research shows that when combined with better social distancing between age groups and a ramp-up of testing and tracing, targeted lockdowns can minimize economic damage and save lives.”
Problems With Senior Lockdown Make the Idea Unfeasible, NextAvenue Says
We lack the space to give all the arguments that author Chris Farrell uses to refute the suggestion to lock down seniors, so let us summarize a few key points and then encourage you to read his NextAvenue article for yourself. “I don’t find the age-segregation solution convincing,” he states. Here’s why.
- Older people are not “a homogeneous cohort.” It’s impossible to lump all people 65 and older into one demographic group and treat them all alike.
- Isolate older Americans and the economy will take a beating. That’s because roughly one adult in three from the 65-69 age group is in the workforce. Many own small businesses, and older boomers account a large percentage of consumer spending.
- Isolation of older adults will trigger a host of new health problems, both cognitively and physically. By “solving” one problem, society would be creating another.
- Forced isolation of one group is potentially a violation of civil liberties. “What kind of society lets younger generations keep their freedoms while denying choice to an older generation who is, on average, living healthier and longer lives than in the past?” Farrell asks. The move would likely be both unenforceable and unconstitutional.
- Seniors are willing to make sacrifices – just not open-ended ones. Surveys have shown a high degree of willingness to self-isolate. “Who wouldn’t shelter in place for slightly longer if it meant younger people could launch their careers and start families?” Farrell writes. “But for an uncertain length of time that could easily extend for years during the hunt for safe, mass vaccinations? Not a chance. That’s why I think the targeting idea is a non-starter politically in the U.S.”
Announcing Seminars with a Choice: In-Person Events Return, Webinars Also Available
For several months our popular LifePlanning Seminars with Rajiv Nagaich have been offered online only. But now as COVID-19 restrictions are starting to be eased, we AgingOptions are excited to announce a new series of in-person seminars coming soon. For now Rajiv will only be offering in-person events in communities where gatherings are permitted under the governor’s phased reopening plan. Of course, these events will be conducted in a way that’s consistent with all health guidelines.
Our chief desire is to help you prepare for the kind of retirement you’ve always dreamed of having. LifePlanning is a powerful process that combines financial planning with a housing strategy, a medical plan, a legal foundation plus a plan to involve your loved ones in all aspects of the choices you make as you age. With finances, housing, medical, legal and family all working together, you have a fully integrated LifePlan.
Because of health safeguards, enrollment at our upcoming in-person seminars will be strictly limited. We urge you to visit our Events Page and register now for the LifePlanning Seminar that works for you. Also, as we said above, Rajiv continues to offer his free LifePlanning Seminars in the form of webinars that you can watch conveniently at home. You’ll find a calendar and other important links here on our AgingOptions website.
Reliable information has never been more important – online or in person! That’s our promise to you at AgingOptions. Age on!
(originally reported at www.nextavenue.org)