Report updates profile of older Americans

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in NextAvenue.com, Journal of Active Aging, Cancer Today, Kaiser Health News, the Connecticut Health I-Team and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement at George Washington University and co-produces the HealthCetera podcast.

Photo: moonjazz via Flickr

More than 15 percent of the U.S. population – one in every seven people – is now age 65 or older. That’s an increase of about 2 percent from just five years ago. The rapid growth in the 65-plus and especially in the 85-plus demographics are fueling this surge.

These statistics are among many useful findings in “Profile of Older Americans: 2017.” This annual report from the Administration for Community Living (ACL) summarizes data on the older population, primarily sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The profile is an important resource for anyone interested in the changing demographics of the 65 and older population. Its 15 topical areas include data on population, income and poverty, living arrangements, education, health and caregiving. Key findings in the 2017 report include:

  • Over the past 10 years, the population age 65 and over increased from 37.2 million in 2006 to 49.2 million in 2016 (a 33 percent increase) and is projected to almost double to 98 million in 2060.
  • The age 85-plus population is projected to more than double from 6.4 million in 2016 to 14.6 million in 2040 (a 129 percent increase).
  • Racial and ethnic minority populations have increased from 6.9 million in 2006 (19 percent of the older adult population) to 11.1 million in 2016 (23 percent of older adults) and are projected to increase to 21.1 million in 2030 (28 percent of older adults).
  • About one in every seven (15.2 percent) of the population is an older American.
  • Those reaching age 65 have an average life expectancy of an additional 19.4 years (20.6 years for females and 18 years for males).
  • Older women outnumber older men – 27.5 million older women to 21.8 million older men.
  • About 28 percent (13.8 million) of non-institutionalized older persons lived alone (9.3 million women, 4.5 million men).
  • Almost half of older women (45 percent) age 75 and over lived alone.
  • The need for caregiving increases with age. In January-June 2017, the percentage of older adults age 85 and over needing help with personal care (22 percent) was more than twice the percentage for adults ages 75-84 (9 percent) and more than six times the percentage for adults ages 65-74 (3 percent).

Additionally, the report found that over 4.6 million older adults (9.3 percent) were below the poverty level in 2016. This rate is not statistically different from the poverty rate in 2015 (8.8 percent). However, the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) showed a poverty rate of 14. 5 percent for those age 65, which is more than 5 percentage points higher than the official rate. Note: SPM takes into account regional variations in living costs, non-cash benefits received and non-discretionary expenditures but does not replace the official poverty measure.

The 2016 median income for the 47.5 million people age 65 and over (who reported any) was $23,394. Nearly one-third (30 percent) of those surveyed said their income was less than $15,000 annually. That raises a lot of questions (and story ideas) about safety-net services, housing, quality of life, cost of care and more.

Factors including employment, home ownership, housing, and education have a bearing on the health and well-being of older adults. This recent review in the Journal of Advanced Nursing takes an in-depth look at social determinants and health in older adults with multiple chronic conditions; for more on social determinants check out AHCJ’s topic area.

The report also contains excellent data on the health, care, physical functioning and caregiving of older adults. The data can help reporters put stories in better perspective. For example, more than one-third (35 percent) of people age 65 and over in 2016 reported a disability – such as a difficulty in hearing, vision or cognition – that hinders ambulation, self-care or independent living.

Another interesting statistic: consumers age 65 and over averaged out-of-pocket health care expenditures of $5,994, a 38 percent increase since 2006 ($4,331). That’s just over 13 percent of their income. Compare that with total population spending of $4,612 in out-of-pocket costs. These numbers indicate how difficult it may be for older people to afford care or needed medications.

The report also includes color-coded maps and a table that breaks out the older population by state. You can download data tables and charts in Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.

While some states are innovating around the long-term care needs of their residents, nationally, we still lack cohesive long-term care solutions or a plan to address our increasingly older population. Here are some questions to answer in your reporting using data from this report:

  • How has the number of older adults in your state changed?
  • What is being done to address their short- and long-term care needs?
  • How do prescription drug costs compare with prior years?
  • What is your state or city doing to address the social determinants that affect the health and well-being of older residents?

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