Academic journal article Generations

The Challenges and Opportunities of the American Demographic Shift

Academic journal article Generations

The Challenges and Opportunities of the American Demographic Shift

Article excerpt

Our nation s population will change dramatically through 2040: Is our new Administration ready to meet the realities of an aging America?

We are living in an era of disruptive demographics (Johnson and Kasarda, 2011). or shifts in the size, composition, and geographic distribution of the U.S. population are dramatically transforming our social, economic, and political institutions, creating challenges and opportunities along the way. Nowhere are these shifts more apparent than in the aging of America (Ortman, Velikoff, and Hogan, 2014; Thompson, 2016).

The aging of the native-born population is driven in part by the maturing of the Baby Boom Generation, which began turning age 65 in 2011 and will continue to do so at the rate of more than 8,000 per day for the next twenty years (Johnson and Kasarda, 2011). This demographic shift is also a function of major advances in healthcare and in the behaviors of older adults, which include more active living and healthier eating habits, both of which contribute to increased longevity in this cohort (Wheeler, 2010).

This article presents a contemporary snapshot of our nation's older adult population and projections of how this population will likely change through the year 2040. We also identify critical areas in which policy prescriptions are required to address some of the most daunting challenges and to take advantage of the most propitious opportunities that underlie the aging of America.

A Contemporary Snapshot of Aging

In 2014, the U.S. population of people ages 65 and older totaled 46.2 million. It is a fairly homogeneous population. In comparison to the total population, in the older population, non-Hispanic whites (78 percent, or 36 million) are over-represented. Blacks (8.8 percent, or 4.1 million), Hispanics (7.6 percent, or 3.5 million), and other non-white groups are under-represented in the older population. Between 2010 and 2014, the older adult population grew at a rate that was nearly five times the rate of growth experienced by the total population (14.8 percent versus 3.1 percent); the leading edge of the baby boomer cohort (i.e., those between ages 65 and 69) grew seven times as fast as the total population (22.4 percent versus 3.1 percent); and the ages 85 and older population, the oldest old, grew nearly four times as fast as the total pop-»abstract ulation (11.2 percent versus 3.1 percent) (U.S. Census Bureau, 2015a).

In absolute numbers, the nation's older adult population grew by roughly 6 million between 2010 and 2014. Most of this growth was concentrated in California, Florida, and nineteen other states, mainly in the South and West. Migration is driving much of this growth (U.S. Census Bureau, 2015a).

At the regional level, older adults have been moving from the Northeast and Midwest to the West and especially to the South for at least the past fifteen years. Irrespective of region of origin, older adults are leaving primarily large urban centers or the principal cities of major metropolitan areas in the Northeast and Midwest and settling mainly in suburban communities of large metropolitan and smaller micropolitan areas in the West and the South. These destinations are mostly amenity-rich and-or planned retirement communities, which benefit from relatively small but significant net flows of older adult migrants from non-metropolitan or rural communities (U.S. Census Bureau, 2015b).

Considerable aging in place occurs outside of these older adult migration-magnet communities (Johnson and Parnell, 2013). The phenomenon is most apparent in the nation's rural counties, where young people have left and continue to leave in search of better economic opportunities elsewhere. These counties are typically left with high older-age dependency ratios, where there are not enough prime working age adults to care for the retired population.

Nationally, in 2014 the old-age dependency ratio was .232. That is, there were twenty-three people ages 65 or older for every 100 individuals between the ages of 18 and 64. …

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