Implications of our aging population
Andi Egbert, Twin Cities Compass
We all know that the huge demographic bubble of the Baby Boomers is beginning to reach retirement age. Between 2010 and 2030, the number of adults age 65+ in the Twin Cities region is expected to double. In addition to spurring more eyeglasses and AARP memberships, these trends will force our systems of health care, transportation, and many others to innovate out of necessity. While the aging of our region’s population will transform our region in ways we can’t fully imagine, we tapped the wisdom of local leaders to help us improve the Compass project — so we can better understand and plan for the big changes ahead.
Not surprisingly, economic concerns are top of mind. While Compass reveals that those 65+ have a lower poverty rate than all other age groups, the group also stressed the value of tools that give us a fuller picture of the economic status of older adults, such as the Elder Economic Security Standard Index.
We also heard repeatedly that the gender differences in aging are profound. One of the female attendees remarked, “Unfortunately, women live longer than men,” to which a male advisor quipped, “That’s fortunate for you!” However, we all want to ensure that longer life expectancy—for men and women—is truly fortunate and fulfilling. At present, while women are blessed with more years, they often have far fewer financial assets than men and bear a disproportionate burden of health challenges, cognitive and other disabilities, and isolation that strike later in life. Ultimately, the group challenged us to think about the measures that reveal how well all of our older adults’ basic needs are being met, and how communities can use the gifts of their older residents.
Well, in some ways, we face the same challenges as many other places, such as having increasingly fewer residents of traditional “working age" relative to those 65 or older. Ironically, this “aging trend” underscores the importance of giving our children an excellent educational start—because we will need all of them to be the workers of tomorrow.
However, the Twin Cities also has certain features that will help us with these incredible demographic changes. Those 65 and older in our region have a median income that is higher than older adults around the country, and our high levels of women in the workforce may equip them with more resources in their later years than women in other places. Furthermore, Minnesota and the Twin Cities is home to residents with a deep ethic of volunteerism and a nonprofit sector that is more vibrant than most places across the U.S. Our nonprofit sector will help to serve the growing numbers of older adults with challenges, while also benefiting largely from the contributions of elders with the time and resources to give back. Last, we are fortunate that many leaders here are exhibiting wise planning for the coming changes, as evidenced in part by the passage of the “Communities for a lifetime” legislation during this past session. The bill identified 17 factors that characterize a community that cares for its elders and helps communities work to attain that vision, with continued leadership from the Minnesota Board on Aging.
We are still identifying ways to give aging issues more prominence on our web site. We intend to provide finer age distinctions for many measures (for example, age 64-74, 75-84 and 85+), to zero in on the unique seasons of later life. We also will highlight more data and resources about health and disability, housing arrangements and community connection, and other themes identified by the advisory group. We will debut these changes later this year. Stay tuned!