The United States of America, 2047: The population bumps up against 400 million people, with a full 22 percent of folks aged 65 and older — or 85.8 million seniors. The national debt rises so high that the country spends more money on interest payments than all of its discretionary programs combined, a scenario that’s never been seen in a half-century of tracking such metrics. And that’s all assuming that elected officials even find a way to keep Social Security and Medicare funded at their current levels.
This stark vision comes courtesy of the Congressional Budget Office and its most recent Long-Term Budget Outlook. The nonpartisan CBO looks into its crystal ball and predicts the economic picture for the next 30 years, and the results could prove fascinating for folks who work in financial planning and lending — or, perhaps, send them screaming into the night.
Interest Rates Creep Higher, But Not Historically So
For instance, the CBO joins the chorus of other financial analysts by projecting steady increases in interest rates over the coming decades as the economy improves and the Federal Reserve moves away from the historically low federal funds rates instituted during the depths of the Great Recession. But mirroring the attitudes of many in the reverse mortgage industry after the Fed last hiked its interest rate target back in March, the office also puts these trends in the larger context of recent history,
“CBO anticipates that interest rates will rise as the economy grows but will still be lower than the average of the past few decades,” the report notes. “Over the long term, interest rates are projected to be consistent with factors such as labor force growth, productivity growth, the demand for investment, and federal deficit.”
As RMD reported at the time, rising interest rates have diverse effects on Home Equity Conversion Mortgage originators and lenders, potentially hampering needs-based borrowers with lower principal limits, but also providing opportunities to market the growing HECM line of credit and strengthening the HECM-backed securities market.
Though the CBO doesn’t address specific numbers for federal funds rate targets, the office offers projections for the interest rate on 10-year Treasury notes, predicting a rise from 2.1% at the end of last year to 3.6% in 2027 and 4.7% in 2047. That’s still a percentage point below the average of 5.8% recorded between 1990 and 2007, a period that the CBO notes was free of major fiscal crises or spikes in inflation.
The current federal funds rate target of 0.75% to 1% still falls on the historically low side of the spectrum; prior to the economic collapse in the late 2000s, the number sat at 5.25%, and it climbed as 20% during the inflationary malaise days of the Carter and early Reagan administrations.
Rising interest rates could spell bad news for the federal government, however, as they also determine the amount of money that Uncle Sam must pay on his debts. According to the CBO’s estimates, the amount of federal debt held by the public will balloon to 150% of the gross domestic product, up from 77% now — reaching figures never seen in the history of the United States. For reference, the national debt has only ever exceeded GDP during and after World War II, when the government embarked on an unprecedented defense spending spree.
A Changing Population
In the CBO’s estimate, a variety of factors will conspire to expand the American population to about 390 million as compared to around 320 million today — while simultaneously making it grayer.
The net immigration rate, which balances out the amount of people leaving and entering the U.S., is expected to rise ever-so-slightly from 3.2 per 1,000 in 2017 to 3.3 per 1,000 in 2047, while the fertility rate for folks already in America will sit at an average of 1.9 births per woman for the next 30 years, down from the pre-recession level of 2.1.
Couple that with declines in mortality rates and gains in life expectancy, and you’ve got the recipe for an older America: A baby born in 2047 can expect to live an average of 82.8 years according to the CBO’s estimates, compared with 79.2 for children born this year. And good news for readers born in 1982: You can expect an average of 21.5 more years on this mortal coil once you turn 65 in 2047, as compared to 19.4 more years for those celebrating their 65th birthdays by the end of 2017.
Interestingly, the CBO notes that it bases its entire report on the assumption that the two key pillars of Social Security and Medicare will remain funded “even if their trust funds are exhausted” — a formidable “if” given political realities and the general pitfalls of making assumptions about the future of government from 30 years out.
As Jamie Hopkins, an associate professor of taxation at the American College of Financial Services, recently told a HECM industry event, Social Security and Medicare will remain funded through 2034, and any attempts to make unpopular decisions that could benefit their long-term health — such as raising the retirement age — would spell political disaster for those who attempt a change.
Perhaps none of this comes as a surprise to originators, lenders, and others who work in the reverse mortgage space: Americans as a unit are getting older, the economic outlook remains uncertain, and no one’s really sure what’s going to become of the social safety net. Meanwhile, down on the micro level, this growing crop of seniors will need to figure out ways to remain comfortable and safe in their retirement years.