Guest Column: Graying of California

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By Wally Pearce, Winters Elder Day Council 
Special to the Express

As the baby-boom generation enters their golden years, California’s older adults are the fastest-growing age group. California is projected to surpass over 40 million residents by 2021 and represents approximately one out of every eight United States citizens. By 2050, the population in California is projected to surpass 50 million. 

According to the national medical community, and other relevant organizations, people are considered an older adult when they reach the age of 55. Some may disagree with that age group, however. At least in the eyes of many businesses offering discounts this is a relevant age. Nevertheless, being labeled an older adult might make someone feel old, but they should still take advantage of the perks. For example, people can now get discounts at restaurants, etc. However, most believe they become an older adult, or senior citizen, when they reach the age of 65, and beyond. It’s within this concluding age group that this essay is presented. 

California estimates that by 2030 more than 9-million Californians will be over the age of 65. Three million more than now. Within a decade, more than 20 percent of the state’s residents will be older adults aged 65 and beyond.

In the 21st century, many have heard the term silver tsunami. It’s a metaphor used to describe the expected increase in the older adult population where today approximately 15 percent of Americans are 65 or older. While the symbol, silver tsunami is an attempt to understand the impact that the increase in the older adult population will have on the nation, not all older adults appreciate the term. California’s impending silver tsunami is bound to impact nearly all walks of life, from nutrition, to healthcare, to housing, to transportation, to be able to age in place, the list continues to expand with the demands from need. But the following are some issues to consider about California’s mounting gray population. 

In comparison to other parts of the country, Californian’s are still relatively young and that makes California one of the 10-youngest states in the country. By comparison, Florida’s median age is 42. But California’s sheer size means its older adult population is ample. Nearly 6-million Californians are over the age of 65 and that’s an increase in older citizens than the entire population of Oregon. 

While California’s working-age population is projected to grow by about 6 percent by the mid-2030s, California’s 65-plus population will grow by more than 65 percent. Over that same time frame, the measure of Californians younger than 18-years of age is expected to dip somewhat. Nearly 60 percent of California older adults are white. But the state’s population of those over 65-years of age, is far more diverse than it used to be. In a decade, its anticipated that no solitary ethnic group is projected to comprise most of California’s older adults.

The long history of California is that the older adult population has been the least diverse, and of course, that reflects population changes from decades ago. But California is due to see major growth in Latino and Asian older adults, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. 

California can expect a major bump in the ranks of those over 65 and beyond, without family to help them. This is a very important revaluation, because baby-boomers had much lower birth rates than their parents, and they’re more than likely to never have children. When someone does not have kids, or only has one child, the fiscal burden of providing care becomes a greater influence on the overall populace. While the most common living arrangement for older adults is to coexist with a spouse, about 36 percent of women and 20 percent of men over 65 currently live alone, according to the 2010 census data. 

However, and because of stressed financial situations, there’s a segment of today’s society, some parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents, that currently reside with the families of their sons and daughters, even their in-laws. According to data from the American Community Survey, the typical California older adult has an annual income of about $25,000. That’s about $10,000 less than your average working-age Californian. That obviously isn’t much, especially in a state as expensive as California. About 30 percent of older adults don’t have enough annual income to cover basic everyday needs, because in most instances, their total income comes from Social Security in one form or another.

Two out of every three of California’s older adult population obtain most of their income from federal retirement programs, while less than half of the older adult-headed households get retirement income from a pension, 401k or an individual retirement account (IRA). Because of today’s deteriorating economic climate, and the necessity to increase their annual income, about 20 percent of Californians over 65 are still working in the labor force. Many labors at or below minimum wage; some work at part-time employment, while still others work at more than one job. All this to make their daily life just a bit more sustainable.

Some good news however, more than 70 percent of Californians over the age of 60 are homeowners, according to the 2010 census data. The 2020 census is yet to be complied and therefore unavailable, so the 2010 is the most current. Those older adults are typically faring far better economically than those older adult California’s who rent. More than half of low-income older adult renters spent more than 50 percent of their income on rent. The biggest advantage for older adult homeowners is having stable rent costs, especially if their home is paid for. And, because of California’s Proposition 13, the 1978 initiative that capped property taxes, that situation enables many California older adults to age in place more efficiently. Assisted living facilities are also popular in California. But only about 2 percent of California older adults live in nursing homes usually because of cost. 

According to estimates from California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office, Californians turning 65 today can expect to spend about 20 percent of their remaining years with a major disability, or a debilitating health condition that interferes with basic life activity like eating, dressing, or going to the bathroom. Although men will spend their superannuation years with various degrees of bodily restrictions, women will spend more of their retirement years with major physical limitations, simply because they are more likely than men to live into their 80s and 90s and beyond. The number of California older adults who have difficulty caring for themselves will double to more than 1 million by 2030, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. 

California is already starting to see the consequences of an aging population living outside institutionalized care. According to data from California’s Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, the number of visits to California emergency rooms (ER) by older adults experiencing debilitating effects from hazardous situations such as falling; are increasing.  The number of California’s older adults who land in an ER after falling has risen sharply in recent years, as their population grows, and they live longer with more chronic illnesses often requiring an array of medications. The number of visits to California ERs by people over 65 who fell surged 38 percent from 167,785 in 2010 to 232,146 in 2015, according to the most recent data from the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.

Some of the injuries on the rise appears to be explained by the estimated 21 percent growth in California’s older adult population, from about 4.28 million in 2010 to 5.19 million in 2015, according to the California Department of Finance. The ranks of people 85 and older, who account for one-third of all fall-related ER visits, are also increasing. That population grew by 19 percent in the same five-year period, according to the department’s data. In addition to their growing numbers, older adults nationwide have multiple chronic diseases and are taking numerous medications, both of which can contribute to their falling, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC-P). And some older adults over 65, may have cognitive decline, poor balance, physical weakness, and deteriorated vision. 

California-funded in-home supportive services for older adults and disabled now cost about $4 billion per year and are expected to grow 11 percent annually — making that program one of the fastest-growing and costliest in California, according to the state Legislative Analyst’s Office.

Is California ready for the silver tsunami, the easy answer is no. Not only is California not prepared, more locally, none of California’s 58-counties are prepared as well. But there is optimism for California becoming equipped according to the California chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). 

Whether you reside in an urban environment, rural setting, or a combination or both, such as Yolo County, please be advised, California Gov. Gavin Newsom is currently working on his “Master Plan on Aging” in an effort to prepare California for the demographic challenges ahead. California’s current patchwork of older adult programs to provide services especially long-term health care — is routinely, and rightfully criticized, as underfunded, fragmented and difficult to navigate. More to come on this score as this program develops.

To actually solve or reduce any bureaucratic delinquency, the problem must first be acknowledged that it exists. There is confidence for positive change, and amongst others, AARP is hopeful.

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