Yesterday China celebrated the Double Ninth Festival (重阳节), which falls on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month. Traditionally people drink chrysanthemum tea and climb mountains and hills. Since 1989 people have also celebrated this day as Senior's Day.
Seniors are a rapidly growing demographic in Yunnan and how to care for them is a growing concern for citizens and officials alike. The province has 5.9 million people over age 60, or roughly eight percent of the population. Many of them are poor or indigent and in need of expensive health care. The number of retired people in Yunnan is expected to double in the next two decades, Yunnan Net is reporting.
In an effort to address this situation, the Yunnan government has earmarked one billion yuan (US$160 million) for retiree programs over the next three years. The announcement was made to coincide with Senior's Day and included provisions for increasing the number of beds available in public nursing homes across the province to 180,000.
There are currently eight nursing home beds for every 1,000 elderly people in Yunnan, according to statistics from the Bureau of Civil Affairs. The one billion yuan allocated for elder care looks to raise that number to 30 beds per 1,000 retirees by 2015.
Additionally, money will be used to upgrade existing care facilities and the construction of new ones. The money will also fund salaries for the workers needed to staff new nursing homes.
An assortment of issues has led to the current predicament surrounding how to help Yunnan's quickly aging population. Mandatory retirement ages, the rising cost of living and China's one-child policy have combined to create a pressing issue.
Nationwide mandatory retirement for women occurs at age 55, and for men at 60. For the first 15 years a person works they or their company must pay eight percent of their monthly income into a pension system (养老保险). Once someone has worked for 15 years, they have the option to opt out of their payments. Those who stay in the system longer receive higher payments upon retirement.
For those who earn very little or opt out of the pension system early, retirement benefits are often paltry sums. Yunnan Net reports that for a Kunming retiree to live "comfortably" from 60 to 80 they should save an absurd 1.5 million yuan (US$240,000) to supplement their pension.
The one-child policy, while limiting China's population growth, has had the perhaps unintended consequence of upending centuries of Chinese filial tradition. Aging parents and grandparents could traditionally depend on their children to care for them in their old age.
For the first time in the history of the Chinese family, this generation of retirees will only have one child to provide for them. It remains to be seen if this new strategy of inserting nursing homes into a culture that was once solely family-dependent will work.
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