The population of the U.S. is aging rapidly, making an already significant impact on our communities and community institutions. That impact will grow in the decades ahead. Some communities will be well-positioned to provide an excellent quality of life for older adults, and others will struggle to offer services, resources, and a good environment for one’s old age. The key ingredients that affect a community’s ability to be a good fit for older adults include (1) demographics (age ranges, population mix, and trends); (2) average incomes, assets, poverty, and income gaps; (3) built environment (housing, transportation, parks, safety); (4) health and human services (adequacy of services and resources); and (5) community life (activities, civic life, work and volunteer opportunities).
The Demographic Picture
The country is aging. Between 2000 and 2010, the older adult population grew 15% nationally. The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 data shows that the over-65 population is now the largest ever recorded, both in terms of numbers as well as percentage of the overall population. Older adults are growing faster than any other age group in the population, and the over-90 age group almost tripled in recent decades. That trend will continue in future years.
Some states are aging at a rate that is slower than the national average, which means that the impact of this aging trend will be less pronounced for those states. However, some communities within those states may still face significant challenges related to the aging of our population. The states where aging trend is the most pronounced, are Alaska, Nevada, Idaho, Colorado, Arizona, Georgia, Utah, South Carolina, New Mexico, and North Carolina.
Those states that are aging more rapidly than the country as a whole are facing an enormous impact on every area of community life now. This aging trend in the faster-aging states will have an even more dramatic impact in the future on state and local budgets, services, resources, infrastructure, policy and institutions, and community life.
The healthiest communities are those that have a good mix of ages, from infants to the very old. However, the aging of our county is skewing that age mix for many communities. With the proportion of older adults much larger than in past years, communities may find they are racing to keep up with those needs. Those communities that have a significant and growing number of young and middle aged adults are better able to support the growing group of elderly than communities that face a diminishing number of young and middle aged adults.
Racial and Ethnic Population Mix
Communities with a mix of racial and ethnic groups across neighborhoods are more stable than those communities with little diversity and/or deep divides between neighborhoods. In general, those communities and neighborhoods with a heavy proportion of racial and ethnic minorities tend to have higher rates of poverty, with fewer needed resources resident in those communities.
Communities that have a net loss in population are among some of the most at-risk. If there is a net loss in the numbers of young and middle aged people, this can add to community stress. If the population loss and outmigration is long-term, alongside a growth in proportion of the elderly to overall population, the community may face significant population challenges. This is often the case with rural counties that have experienced a loss in jobs, and long term outmigration of young and middle aged adults to areas where there are more employment opportunities. Areas that face inmigration, with a growing population, may provide excellent opportunities. Trends that are fast moving, or whipsaw, are harder to manage than those that are slower paced.
State and county population trends are important to consider when looking at how age-friendly a community may be in future years. We find that biodiversity is healthy, and the same is true for communities. Those communities with a good mix of ages, races and ethnicities; with a slow net gain in population are usually the most stable. The Aging Community Impact Forecaster (ACIF) will help you to determine your community’s health, and what is needed for the future.
By Anne Hays Egan, New Ventures Consulting
This article is the first in a series. Watch for the next article in the series in mid December, 2017. For more information about this issue, and the Aging Community Impact Forecaster, contact Anne Hays Egan at firstname.lastname@example.org.