Kenneth Gronbach claims that predicting the future is not a mystery. The trends of tomorrow can be easily seen in the math behind the rise and fall of populations around the world.
And he has a warning for countries, communities and businesses – embrace those trends and changing times or face disaster.
“We are changing and our country is changing. Get over it. … The (Baby) Boomers are retiring and the generation behind them is smaller,” said Mr. Gronbach, the keynote speaker at the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting Thursday, Aug. 11, at the Rhythm City Casino and Resort in Davenport.
Mr. Gronbach, a demographer, author, futurist and president of KGC Direct, LLC, shared his views on the future during a presentation called “Demography is Destiny” before a crowd of about 600 Quad Cities business and community leaders. A presentation on the changing times, his speech was laced with humor, predictions, warnings and optimism for the United States. (He explained that demography is the study of statistics such as births, deaths and income, which illustrate the changing structure of human populations.)
Some of his top predictions and views included:
- The population of the world (now about 8 billion) and the United States (about 332 million) will continue to climb. But in the coming decades, the population will start to recede. Estimates show the world population will hit about 10 billion by 2060 before the population decline starts.
- This population decline will greatly harm some countries. For instance, Mr. Gronbach predicts the power of Russia and China will quickly fade in the coming years because of falling populations, immigration policies and China’s 37 years of its One-Child Policy. In fact, he believes China’s economy will implode because of falling population numbers that will crush its labor force and consumer base. “You don’t want your population to drop,” he added.
- Europe, Japan and South Korea also will diminish in power and influence because of low fertility rates.
- The United States, on the other hand, is in a much better demographic position. Compared to many other countries, the U.S. is in a good position because of its immigration policies. However, the country must embrace diversity. As he looked over the audience at the chamber meeting on Thursday, he noted that the vast majority of the people in attendance were white. “This is honky heaven. You need more color here, true?” Mr. Gronbach said. He added that the country is becoming more racially diverse and that will help the economy as more consumers and workers with talents come into the economy. “If you are a bigot, you need to get over it,” he said.
- He said Mexico has the “best demography on the planet,” but has a disaster of a government.
- The changing U.S. population will change almost every sector of the economy. For instance, the country is currently short 25 million housing units, and the need for additional housing will continue, especially for multi-family housing, Mr. Gronbach added.
Much of Mr. Gronbach’s keynote presentation focused on the demographic changing of the guard. The Baby Boomer generation – those born between 1946 and 1964 – are retiring, and younger generations (often called Generation X and Generation Y) are coming into the workforce with different expectations and skills, but also with far fewer numbers compared to Baby Boomers. The new generations come into the workforce with the cyber and multi-tasking skills that will greatly help the economy, but they don’t want to work for “mean bosses,” he added.
“Boomers are leaving the workforces, retiring, eventually dying at 4 million per year. This is accelerating post pandemic,” according to data presented by Mr. Gronbach.
In the coming years, he added, service sectors like health care and care for the elderly will greatly grow as the Baby Boomers retire. “We will be a nation of Floridas,” said Mr. Gronbach, who now resides there.
He also praised the work of the Quad Cities Chamber. He added that after looking over the group’s 2022 report, which was distributed to all guests at the annual meeting, he was impressed with many of the chamber projects and programs.
“Most of the chambers I talk to do golf tournaments and that’s all they do,” Mr. Gronbach said.