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This has some funny stuff in it!!



MEXICO CITY - There's something new in Old Mexico: The country is getting, well, old.

Mexico's population of people older than 60 is growing twice as fast as the same demographic in the United States as life expectancy soars, while traditionally large families are shrinking as birthrates drop.

As new programs spring up across Mexico to serve the aging population, from a Senior University to free distribution of Viagra, concerns are growing about how the country will pay for it all.
"We are getting older as a country," said Alejandro Orozco, director of Mexico's National Institute for Older Adults. "We're going to have many more seniors in the population, and we're going to be living much longer."

People older than 60 now make up 9.9 million of Mexico's estimated population of 111 million, or about 9 percent, up from 5.7 percent in 1975. The United States' share of people older than 60 has grown more slowly, from 14.8 percent in 1975 to 18 percent in 2009. At the same time, the Mexican fertility rate has dropped to 2.1 children per woman, the same as the United States'.

In Mexico City, where elementary schools have closed or shrunk because of a lack of students, the city government in April opened Senior University, offering degrees in psychology and business administration to people older than 60.

Its 1,545 students pay just 50 to 250 pesos per class, $3.75 to $18.80, a fraction of what other colleges charge.

"It's never too late to learn," said Senior University student Florentina Salazar, 61, who is taking classes in law, English and computer science. "It makes you feel useful and valued."

By 2050, people older than 60 will make up 24.4 percent of Mexico's population, nearly on par with the U.S. at 26.9 percent, according to projections by the United Nations. Life expectancy here is now 77 years, compared with 78.1 years in the United States. Other countries are also struggling to deal with their aging populations. About 29 percent of Japanese are older than 60, and about 24 percent of Spaniards.

In the past, the Mexican government offered few benefits to seniors because children were expected to care for their parents. But the dropping birthrate means there are fewer children to share the responsibility.

In 2007, the federal government began giving subsidies of 500 pesos a month, about $38, to people older than 70 in poor areas. It also expanded a nationwide senior-shopper discount card.

Mexico City started its own subsidy program in 2001, giving 822 pesos a month, about $61, to seniors 68 and older.

This year, the city launched a network of gerontology clinics to dispense free Viagra, among other medications. In February, the federal government opened a Geriatric Institute to train doctors.

"We are beginning to realize that very soon, we are going to have a large amount of senior citizens, and we have to get ready," said Alejandro Cuadros, planning director for Mexico City's welfare department.

The new emphasis on social programs is an improvement, many seniors say.

"For so long, we were stuck in our homes," said Irene Orta, 73, as she took a break on Tuesday during a national domino tournament organized by the National Institute for Older Adults. "Now we can get out and have a little fun."

Meanwhile, worries are growing that the wave of seniors may eventually overwhelm Mexico's main pension programs, the Mexican Institute of Social Security and the Public Workers Social Security and Services Institute, known as ISSSTE.

Experts are especially worried about the 12.7 million Mexicans living in the United States, Orozco said. Many of them probably will return to Mexico as they reach retirement age, and few have been paying into the Mexican pension plans.

In 2007, President Felipe Calderón pushed through changes to ISSSTE that will gradually raise the minimum age for benefits to 60 from 55 between 2010 and 2018.

The government has also started programs to encourage seniors to stay in the workplace longer. On July 5, the Social Development Secretariat held its first job fair for seniors. And later this year, the National Institute for Older Adults will start paying skilled retirees to act as consultants for companies needing their expertise.

"We're trying to spread this idea of growing old actively, with seniors working, because there's not enough (government) money to go around," Orozco said.
 
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