Last month, the U.S. Census Bureau released their statistics that give us a snapshot of what America’s senior population looks like. And it’s a warning for all of us. The graying of America is like a tsunami. Think of the Census Report as the water receding, warning us that something big is coming our way. The wave of baby boomers crashing onto our shores over the next 20 years will challenge us in ways not seen in our history. Couple this with the ongoing state and federal cuts to senior services and the fact that seniors are struggling to make ends meet, and we have one heck of a storm and subsequent messy aftermath to clean up.
By 2035, one in four Americans will be age 65 or older. But the rapid growth has already begun to occur. According the U.S. Census numbers, the U.S. senior population increased by 15.1 percent, while the population in general only increased by 9.7 percent. This means there has been exponential growth among seniors across the nation between 2000 and 2010.
San Diego County also saw a 15 percent increase in the senior population in the last decade. Our region is home to 351,425 residents age 65 and older in 2010, which represents 11.4 percent of the county’s total population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Today, one in ten residents is age 65 or older.
The news doesn’t stop there. The U.S. Census report also showed a 48 percent increase in people age 85 and older. This particular segment of the senior population has doubled or tripled in some cities in the last decade. And the rapid growth will continue, as the nation’s Baby Boomers turn age 65 and begin to live longer lives.
Currently, in San Diego two out of five seniors lack adequate resources to meet their basic needs, and struggle to live day by day. This storm could have damaging effects on everything from our infrastructure, housing, health care, employment; our whole economy could be devastated. It’s time for state and federal governments to wake up and prepare for this storm with proper aging policy and infrastructure. If they had doubts about the surge of seniors before, these new census numbers tell us what is going to happen. The numbers are real.
Here’s what’s brewing:
- Baby boomers on average have had fewer children and have fewer resources and family members to support them. Thus, these seniors will rely on government support, such as housing and long-term care services. Medicare may be the biggest issue, as the current system won’t handle the influx of seniors who need support.
- With tens of thousands of boomers hitting the traditional retirement age of 65, we will begin losing vital members of our workforce. As a result, employers will be forced to offer incentives, such as job sharing, bonuses, working from home, etc., to seniors to continue working. If seniors do not continue to work, we will not have enough people to sustain our economy.
- Loss of workforce is a loss of Social Security taxes, resulting in a shrinking amount of money dedicated to seniors. This will continue until there are more people working than retired. It’s a simple arithmetic problem.
There are ways to ease the coming strain. Medicare will need to be remodeled to be more efficient and more HMO-like. The system will need to focus more on wellness and staying healthy before seniors become sick. This is why non-profit organizations like Senior Community Centers are crucial to communities as they provide nutrition and wellness services for people to remain strong and independent. The public’s support is needed now more than ever to continue services today and prepare for seniors of the future. Additionally, continued employment allows seniors to be socially engaged and provide valuable insight and wisdom to our workforce. All these factors will help keep older adults stronger physically and financially – and less dependent on government and social service organizations.
As a community, let’s embrace positive aging and reshape the way we view seniors. Seniors are vibrant and active members of our society. Living a long, full life is a privilege, so it is important to create a community that respects old age and considers people as unique individuals at any age. The more our elected officials and community representatives hear this message, the quicker we can integrate solutions and protect ourselves from stormy conditions ahead.