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Aging in Mexico

A nation working to meet the needs of an ever-growing aging population

But still more has to be done to prepare for Mexico's changing demographics, says Kapteyn. For example, the nation's pension system must be strengthened.

Currently, Mexican workers contribute at work to a national retirement and health system called the Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social (Mexican Social Security Institute). They also can choose a private investment plan.

"We have a retirement savings system that consists of accounts for each worker that are managed very carefully," says Calderón, 49. "[This] will allow people to live with dignity when they retire." On a personal level, Calderón plans to work after his term ends in 2012, perhaps as a consultant or at a university, do a lot of writing and eventually participate in that federally-run retirement plan.

But fewer than half of the nation's workers — and only 16 percent of Mexicans 60 and older — participate in that pension plan because most of the workforce consists of "informal" workers who can't access the system. Muñoz Maldonado, who worked as a sound engineer on movies before his retirement 10 years ago, was one of those workers. Moving from one movie project to another, he was never employed long enough at one place to start a retirement account.

To help Mexicans ineligible to participate in the nation's social security system, the recently released AARP/RAND report recommends that Mexico extend to those workers the type of government-sponsored pension that Muñoz Maldonado receives until they can be incorporated into the existing system.

When it comes to health care needs, Muñoz Maldonado, who suffers from diabetes, is more fortunate. His and his wife's health care are covered by Mexico's Seguro Popular, which subsidizes medical care on a sliding scale. It's the same insurance that Calderón is expanding to cover all of Mexico's uninsured.

Muñoz Maldonado has another advantage: He and Consuelo belong to the Instituto Nacional de las Personas Adultas Mayores (INAPAM), a government agency that provides those 60 and older a host of services, from discounts on medicine and medical care to job training and placement services. Job training? In fact, about 46 percent of men and 15 percent of women age 65 or older remain in the labor force.

"The phenomenon of aging is new to the world," says Pilar Torres, an INAPAM official. "People used to die right after they retired. But now when a person turns 60, they have 20 years or more of life expectancy. We've been working to change the idea that older people are in rocking chairs … doing nothing more than watching television or knitting."

Working with INAPAM has changed Muñoz Maldonado's outlook, he says. After joining an INAPAM senior center, he found a new hobby — making stained glass — and, he says, a "new life."

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