As 10,000 Baby Boomers retire each day of the year for the next 30-plus years, there is a plethora of information available to research. Synthesizing this data has become a passion for me.
Not unlike the rest of the world, the U.S. is an aging society. The current growth in the number and proportion of older adults in the United States is unprecedented in our nation’s history. By 2050, it is anticipated that Americans aged 65 or older will number nearly 89 million people, or more than double the number in 2010 (cdc.gov). Perhaps a bit more shocking is the fact that the population of people aged 85 and over, which is the group most likely to need health and long-term care services, is projected to increase by 350 percent during this same time period.
The unprecedented growth rate in the U.S. aging population may be due in part to the fact that people are living longer lives than in previous generations and, given the baby boom that followed World War II, there are correspondingly a greater amount of older adults than in previous generations.
COLORADO GROWING FAST
For those of us who have chosen to move to Colorado and for those who are finding out about the great offerings the state provides, this may come as no surprise: Colorado is fifth-fastest-growing state in the nation. According to U.S. Census estimates, from the years 2000 to 2010 Colorado’s population grew at more than 17 percent.
The 2010 census also provides some very interesting data on the mountain communities. At a growth rate of 25.3 percent, Eagle County was Colorado’s fifth fastest growing county from 2000 to 2010. Perhaps it’s because Eagle County offers such a great climate, fabulous cultural activities, great culinary diversity and top-notch skiing, cycling, hiking, rafting.
THE BABY BOOMERS ARE COMING
The changes that lay ahead for both our state and county may not be what many people expect. The Baby Boomers are coming and they are coming at an unprecedented rate. Between 2000 and 2010, Colorado’s population 55 to 64 increased by an annual average of 6.1 percent from 338,000 to 619,000, compared to the total population of 1.7 percent. By 2030, Colorado’s population that is 65 or older will be 150 percent larger than it was in 2010, growing from 540,000 to 1.35 million.
Here in Eagle County, census data states that from 2010 to 2020 we will experience a growth rate of 157 percent in persons over the age of 65 (3,005 people to 7,721 people). The statistics become a bit more shocking for the years 2010 to 2030 as they demonstrate a growth rate estimated at 333 percent (3,005 people to 12,998 people). The numbers for our surrounding mountain communities parallel these numbers. Garfield County is expected to have the population of persons over 65 increase to an estimated 100 percent by 2020 and 213 percent by 2030. Routt County is not far off at, 99 percent by 2020 and 165 percent by 2030.
Preparing our communities for this growth is going to pose some challenges. Tax revenues, medical offerings, housing, land planning, parks and recreation, and transportation are just a few of the factors that will need to be addressed. Our communities are going to need to become active partners with our policy makers in order to develop a sustainable plan to develop a “healthy community.”
CARING FOR SENIORS
In addition to the preparing our communities for the senior population that is here already and those that will be coming, we need to educate ourselves about how we intend to provide the services this population will demand. Moreover, who will provide them?
A great number of the population that provides services to our mountain communities are persons under 65 — specifically, persons 18 to 40 years of age. Many business owners here in Eagle County are all too aware of the fact that this segment of our population is difficult to retain. While housing and rental prices are often the greatest inhibitor in attracting employees, so too is the fact many persons within this population segment are untrainable and just apathetic in their motivation to work in the service industries. While this certainly does not hold true for everyone, the fact of the matter is, the proportion is rather large.
While the statistics vary depending on the source, it is expected that between 2000 and 2050, the population age 16 to 64 may only grow by 33 percent. The ratio of people ages 16 to 64 to those age 65 and older is projected to decline from 5.1 in 2000 to 2.9 in 2050, a 43 percent decline (oxfordjournals.org). This complicates factors two-fold. First, the people available to provide services is going to shrink along with the increased demand for services. Second, with fewer persons within the workforce, tax revenues will decrease and thus put a profound hardship on the governments that rely on these funds to provide services.
There are many agencies studying these issues. One is the Regional Council of Governments, which warns that the status quo of helping the older population isn’t sustainable. “We’ve been talking with our local governments,” said senior planner Brad Calvert. “People are struggling with the immensity of the issue, how broad and deep the challenges are. The topic is so big, they don’t know where to start. “
I am not alone in ringing the bell about this. It is going to take a tremendous amount of organizations to collaborate and address what lies ahead. There will be great benefits both economical and societal to our community as we address these changes. Here in Eagle County, one group who is addressing many off these issues is called the Community Resource Connection Task Group. If you are interested in information, please contact me.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. For more information, go to www.visitingangels.com/comtns or call 970-328-5526.