May is Older Americans Month, an opportunity to acknowledge the contributions of older persons to our country. When Older Americans Month was established in 1963, there were only 17 million living Americans who had reached their 65th birthday, now that number is over 43 million with about 8,000 turning 65 every day. By 2050 it is expected that 21 percent of the U.S. population will be 65 or older, today that figure is 14.5 percent.
While older Americans live longer, are in better economic shape, and are in better physical condition than in previous eras, there are still challenges. For example, there is a rising rate of obesity for people age 65 and over, which is now a major cause of preventable disease and premature death. And according to the National Institute on Aging housing problems are the most significant issue by far as increasing housing costs burden those living on fixed incomes and social security benefits. “In 1985, about 30 percent of households with householders or spouses age 65 and over, spent more than 30 percent of their income on housing and utilities. By 2009, the proportion of older people with a high housing cost burden reached 40 percent.” For some of those older Americans who find themselves living in multigenerational households, crowded housing is a concern. And in California, the high cost of living has many seniors living in poverty.
And then there are public policy dilemmas. According to The National Academy on an Aging Society, policies on elder abuse and neglect to defend the rights and safety of older Americans will need to be re-thought as adult protective service agencies find themselves challenged and stretched. As older Americans live longer and healthier lives, raising the social security retirement age will be debated and explored as a retiring workforce collects pensions and social security taxing all levels of government, from cities to state to federal. In health care policy, Medicaid Home and Community Based Services, long-term care, and caregiver services will all need to be reexamined and redefined.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Medicare, Medicaid, and the Older Americans Act, as well as the 80th anniversary of Social Security. With the unprecedented number of Americans age 65 and older, it is important that we commit to promoting healthy aging and develop long lasting public policies that improve the quality of life for this growing (and thriving) population.