America is getting older - much older.
According to a new demographic report by the U.S. Administration on Aging and the American Association of Retired Persons, the number of Americans 65 and older has increased by 21 percent since 1980, compared with an 8 percent increase for the rest of the population.The report projects that by the year 2030, there will be 66 million older people, representing nearly 22 percent of the U.S. population. That figure is twice the number of older Americans living in 1980, the report says.
It goes on to say that if current fertility and immigration levels remain stable, the only age groups to experience significant growth in the next century will be those 55 and older.
No doubt the baby boomers have changed America. The changes can be seen every day, from music to a greater concern for the types of foods we eat, from a much greater emphasis on fitness than ever before to the types of television programs that are popular these days.
But the aging of that generation is becoming obvious as well.
As the boomers have become older, programs dealing with the problems of raising families, such as "thirtysome-thing" and "Parenthood" have grown in popularity.
Musical groups like the Traveling Wilburys - made up of such '60s rockers as Bob Dylan and George Harrison - have found their records near the top of the charts.
People in their 20s groan every time there's another anniversary of Woodstock or the deaths of Janis Joplin or Jimi Hendrix because of all the attention that those milestones receive.
After all, the average college student wasn't even born when any of those events took place.
But just as that massive population of baby boomers changed America, the graying of America will have a tremendous impact on all of our lives. That impact - some of which can be felt already - is inevitable. Consider:
- About 30 percent - or 8.9 million - of all older people who were not in institutions in 1989 lived alone. That's an increase of 25 percent since 1980.
- Nearly a fifth of the older population was at or below the poverty level in 1989.
- A child born in 1988 could expect to live 74.9 years, about 28 years longer than a child born in 1900.
- The median level of education of the older population increased from 8.7 years in 1970 to 12.1 years in 1988, and the percentage who completed high school rose from 28 to 54 percent.
- About 2.2 million people celebrated their 65th birthday in 1989. In the same year, about 1.5 million people over the age of 65 died.
The result? A need to address the challenges this country faces in the aging of America.
Don Fowles, a statistician for the U.S. Administration on Aging who put together the demographic report, said the implications are far-reaching.
Among the implications:
- Government will have to find ways to make sure that programs such as Social Security and Medicare remain strong and well financed. As greater numbers of people live to older ages, more people will rely on such programs to make ends meet.
- Good pension programs will become one of the most important benefits that employers can offer.
- Politicians will pay more and more attention to older Americans. The greater numbers of older people, combined with the tradition of older people voting in greater numbers than younger people, will make that constituency even more important to politicos.
- Greater efforts will have to be made to recruit people to become doctors, nurses and other health-care professionals. The nursing home industry is already facing serious problems attracting qualified professionals, and the problem will only worsen unless steps are taken now.