There’s a lot more to aging than a number
As the Baby Boomers rapidly morph into the Elder Boomers, they present some challenging demographics as the first generation of seniors to outnumber their children’s generation. For the first time in history, the number of people over 65 will soon outnumber the people under 5. How will that will that impact our community?
This shift is significant by the sheer numbers. Every day, 10,000 people hit age 65, upward of 4 million each year. One in three seniors has no retirement savings, and up to 84 percent report Social Security as their primary source of income. One third of all retired people report that Social Security is 90 percent of their income. That adds up to a steady increase of people who will be seeking affordable housing, health care providers willing to accept Medicaid, and other forms of assistance.
So how many seniors are there? According to the Pew Research Center’s tabulations of US Census data for 2015, there were 29.5 million people in the veterans’ generation of people born 1925-1942. Their children were Baby Boomers, 75 million strong, who were born 1944-1964.
The children of Baby Boomers, known as Generation X, were numbered at 66 million people who were born 1965-1979. This matters given that adult children typically provide baseline support for their aging parents. Baby Boomers have an average ratio of 2-1 to help their aging parents. Yet on the other side, there is less than a 1-1 ratio of children for aging Baby Boomers, 1-5 of whom are childless. That’s a lot of “elder orphans.”
Not only are there more seniors, they live longer. The Population Reference Bureau’s report, “Aging in the United States,” shows that life expectancy increased from 68 years in 1950 to 79 years in 2013. Baby Boomers are projected to fuel a 75 percent increase of people 65 and older requiring nursing home care, from 1.3 million in 2010 to about 2.3 million in 2030. The demand for eldercare will also be fueled by a steep rise in the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease, which could nearly triple from 5 million in 2013 to 14 million by 2050. In the current debate over health insurance,these eldercare services are critical needs.
In the words of political economist Harold Lasswell, public policy is all about “who gets what when and how.” Given that statistics are one of the core languages of public policy and services, numbers matter when it comes to seniors and what part of the public service pie they get. Recently this has become even more critical with proposed changes at the federal level.
According to AARP, the recently defeated health insurance bill would have required seniors to pay up to five times as much as younger people. “This legislation has a simple explanation — it would be an age tax — charging older Americans not yet eligible for Medicare a penalty of five times what others must pay for health insurance. The term ‘age rating’ is Washington-speak for overcharging older Americans … for their health care,” said AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond.
And there’s the question of being included in the statistics at all. SAGE USA (Services and Advocacy for LGBT Elders) is mobilizing protests of a recent US Census Bureau decision to exclude LGBT seniors from data collection from upcoming 2020 Census. According to Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, D- WI, all levels of government use census data to determine how to allocate resources to meet the needs of certain populations, saying that “Despite this critical mission, no comprehensive federal population survey currently asks respondents to share their sexual orientation and gender identity, meaning that even the most basic of statistics — the number of people who identify as LGBTQ — is undeterminable.” In short, government is far less likely to fund eldercare needs not supported by data.
Numbers do matter. And the numbers show big increases in the number of older adults at the same time the federal government is proposing huge decreases in funding senior needs for health care, Meals on Wheels and many other critically needed supports. Perhaps the most important numbers are the phone numbers of your congressional delegation to register your views.
Anna Schlecht is a board member of Senior Services for South Sound and a member of the Olympian Board of Contributors. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org