Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Aging in Our Region

Today's StarTribune reported that the number of aging people in the suburbs will greatly increase in the coming years. (The Brookings Institution made these projections; they resemble earlier predictions made for Minnesota by our State Demographer.)

As we have discussed before, the movement of the Baby Boom into older age will constitute a demographic change unlike anything we have seen previously. The number of people in their 80s and 90s, for example, will grow in some suburban Twin Cities counties far more rapidly than any other age group. The currently evolving demographic trends have implications not just because of the increase in elderly, but also because the generation that follows the Boomers is smaller in numbers, which may produce various types of shortages in businesses, nonprofits, and government, and which may require that we re-think how we get things done.

The increasing number of older people will lead to "more of everything." On the positive side, more people who live longer, healthier lives - who want to remain active, perhaps in the labor force, perhaps as volunteers. On the negative side, more people who will spend longer periods of time needing care and assistance with their daily lives - which will strain families, communities, and formal health and long-term care systems.

Another article in today's news indicated that many Boomers feel the need to postpone retirement, due to financial concerns. As we showed at a recent conference, the proportion of older people with low incomes, even living in poverty, seems to be increasing, after a decline over many decades.

We need to realize the importance of addressing the changing demographics as a region. It's not a "city" issue or a "suburban" issue. Cities and suburbs are socially and economically interdependent. (Geographic dispersion in the suburbs may increase the challenges of caring for older people there, relative to cities where density provides opportunities to bring services closer to more people, reduce transportation time and costs, etc.; but that's a different issue.) As a region, we need to understand what changes will likely occur, plan for them, and act together to promote the best quality of life for residents of the entire region, young or old.