Tag Archives: demographics

New and noteworthy tidbits on the aging and health care beat

Judith Graham

About Judith Graham

Judith Graham (@judith_graham), is a freelance journalist based in Denver and former topic leader on aging for AHCJ. She haswritten for the New York Times, Kaiser Health News, the Washington Post, the Journal of the American Medical Association, STAT News, the Chicago Tribune, and other publications.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has published a new report that looks at Social Security’s role in keeping Americans out of poverty.  Poverty is closely linked with compromised access to medical care and lesser health status.   Regarding older adults, the Center explains:

“Almost 90 percent of people aged 65 and older receive some of their family income from Social Security.[2]   Without Social Security benefits, 43.6 percent of elderly Americans would have incomes below the official poverty line, all else being equal; with Social Security benefits, only 8.7 percent do.  These benefits lift some 14.5 million elderly Americans — including 8.7 million women — above the poverty line.

Social Security reduces elderly poverty dramatically in every state in the nation, as Figure 1 and Table 2 show.  Without Social Security, the poverty rate for those aged 65 and over would meet or exceed 40 percent in 41 states; with Social Security, it is less than 10 percent in the large majority of states.”

The Scan Foundation has published a new issue brief on who provides long-term care in the United States.  Among the findings:

  •  The vast majority of people who need long-term care – 87 percent – receive services from informal or unpaid caregivers.
  • 43.5 million Americans serve as informal caregivers to adults age 50 and older.  Two-thirds of these caregivers are female.
  • For people who require assistance with activities of daily living, the most common types are getting in and out of bed (40 percent), getting dressed (32 percent) and bathing and showering (26 percent).
  • For people who need help with so-called instrumental activities of daily living, the most common types offered by a caregiver are transportation (83 percent) and housework and grocery shopping (both at 75 percent).
  • 70 percent to 80 percent of paid long-term care services are provided by direct care workers – certified nursing assistants, personal care aides, and home health aides.

AARP and New York’s United Hospital Fund document the extent to which family caregivers deal with complex medical needs of older relatives in a new report, Home Alone:  Family Caregivers Providing Complex Chronic Care.  It’s based on an online survey of more than 1,600 family caregivers.   Important findings include:

“Almost half (46 percent) of family caregivers performed medical/nursing tasks for care recipients with multiple chronic physical and cognitive conditions.

“These tasks include managing multiple medications, helping with assistive devices for mobility, preparing food for special diets, providing wound care, using monitors, managing incontinence, and operating specialized medical equipment.

“Family caregivers reported very few home visits by health care professionals. Sixty-nine percent of the care recipients did not have any home visits by health care professionals. Of those who did have home visits, roughly seven in ten were visited by a nurse.

“Most family caregivers who provided help with five or more medical/nursing tasks believed they were helping their family member avoid institutionalization. Those who provided these tasks and reported they had training were more likely to say they were able to help their family member avoid nursing home placement.

“These significant relationships are important on both the individual and public policy levels.”

AARP’s Public Policy Institute also  has published a new issue brief that looks at the impact of family caregiving on work.  Of note:

“An estimated 61 percent of family caregivers of adults age 50 and older are currently employed either full-time (50 percent) or part-time (11 percent).”

“Forty-two percent of U.S. workers have provided care for an aging relative or friend in the past five years. About half (49 percent) of the workforce expects to be providing eldercare in the coming five years.”

“In 2011, 17 percent of workers in the United States provided eldercare,5-7 up from 13 percent in 1999.”

If you’ve seen other reports or issue briefs on aging that deserve wide circulation, drop a line below and let us know.

Shifts in aging populations affect communities; check data for your state

Judith Graham

About Judith Graham

Judith Graham (@judith_graham), is a freelance journalist based in Denver and former topic leader on aging for AHCJ. She haswritten for the New York Times, Kaiser Health News, the Washington Post, the Journal of the American Medical Association, STAT News, the Chicago Tribune, and other publications.

Which region of the country is aging most rapidly? It’s New England, where all six states appear on the list of the top 10 oldest states in the nation, ranked by the median age of the population in 2010.

Oldest States in the U.S. Median Age
Maine** 42.7 years
Vermont** 41.5 years
New Hampshire ** 41.3 years
West Virginia 41.2 years
Florida 40.7 years
Pennsylvania 40.2 years
Montana 40.1 years
Connecticut** 40.0 years
Rhode Island** 39.6 years
Massachusetts** 39.1 years
** New England state

By contrast, the median age stands at 37.2 nationally and at 29.2 years in the youngest state, Utah.

I compiled this list after looking at a recent item on seacoastonline.com and deciding to run the numbers myself at the Census Bureau website. Although my data differs slightly from the information included in that story, the findings are essentially the same.

(Seacoastonline.com is a Web news site sponsored by the Portsmouth Herald, Exeter News-Letter, and Hampton Union, all of New Hampshire, and York County Coast Star and York Weekly, of Maine.)

“The biggest factors are the low birth rate here and the out-migration of young families looking for opportunities,” said Jim Breece, an economist at the University of Maine, quoted in the seacoastoneline.com report.

Breece’s observation is important: States where economic opportunities are few and far between are more likely to experience a departure of younger adults, leaving behind an older population and an altered economic climate.

The extent of immigration can also affect the age distribution of a state’s population insofar as many immigrants tend to be younger adults and families. Immigration is more common in other regions of the country than it is in New England.

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Still another factor in a state’s age is its appeal to retirees. New England draws significant numbers of people who have finished working and are interested in moving to locations with historic communities, good health care, educational opportunities and cultural amenities.

On the other end of the age spectrum, the population of children is shrinking in several states; across New England, there were 200,000 fewer children in 2010 than a decade earlier.

“There isn’t enough affordable housing for young adults in the seacoast area,” Peter Francese, a Maine demographer, told seascoastonline. “Another reason is individual towns in New England do not like or want children because most property taxes go towards education.”

What’s the situation in your state? Has the median age of the population changed significantly over the past five or 10 years? If so, which factors are fueling the trend, according to local demographers?
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Baby boomers’ votes have potential to influence many political issues

Judith Graham

About Judith Graham

Judith Graham (@judith_graham), is a freelance journalist based in Denver and former topic leader on aging for AHCJ. She haswritten for the New York Times, Kaiser Health News, the Washington Post, the Journal of the American Medical Association, STAT News, the Chicago Tribune, and other publications.

Governing magazine has joined the ranks of publications turning a spotlight on the aging of America.

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Especially worth reading is its just-published story on the politics of greying baby boomers. What could be more timely in this election season?

Some highlights of this nuanced, well-reported piece by Rob Gurwitt:

“More than half the nation’s voting-age population is now over 45 – the first time that’s ever happened. As the immense bulge of the baby boom ages, politics in every state, county, city and town will reflect its influence. Yet what’s most interesting about this is that no one really knows how.”

…”‘Really, the senior vote is something of a myth,’ says Frederick Lynch, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and author of One Nation Under AARP: The Fight Over Medicare, Social Security, And America’s Future. ‘It breaks apart by education, class, ethnicity and family structure. And among pre-seniors, you’ve got elite boomers who got good degrees, bought into globalization and were able to adjust to a changing economy, versus the white working class, which is mostly boomers who have been completely dislocated by cheap immigrant labor and their jobs sent overseas. In numbers, the senior and pre-senior bloc is a sleeping giant, but the question is will it awaken and mobilize?'”

…”There is no shortage of potential flash points that could see state and local voters polarize along age-related lines. Taxation, schools, long-term care, Medicaid, urban design, transportation – all carry the potential for conflict. Even ethnicity could be a sensitive topic. Pew’s research suggests that boomers are generally less tolerant of the increasingly diverse, multi-ethnic character of the U.S. than the cohorts that follow them – though they are more accepting than their elders.”

What a rich vein of reporting lies here for reporters willing to go out and ask baby boomers about their views on these and other topics.

Other stories in the new Governing series look at Continue reading

Reporting should include questions about demographics, state plans on aging

Judith Graham

About Judith Graham

Judith Graham (@judith_graham), is a freelance journalist based in Denver and former topic leader on aging for AHCJ. She haswritten for the New York Times, Kaiser Health News, the Washington Post, the Journal of the American Medical Association, STAT News, the Chicago Tribune, and other publications.

It’s hard to imagine a better statistical portrait of a state’s aging population than one available at a new website created by the Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University.

It’s a fascinating look at Ohio’s demographic present and recent past and a provocative peek into its potential future.

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One section documents the accelerating graying of this Rust Belt state over the past 20 years: It features comprehensive data about residents 65 and older for each of Ohio’s 88 counties for 1990, 2000, and 2010. (Click on the 65+ bar beneath the banner on the top.)

As expected, there’s considerable variability among the counties, with some reporting significant gains in their senior population over the 20-year period (as high as 83 percent) and others reporting declines of up to 10 percent.

Leading the latter group is Cuyahoga county (home to Cleveland), which has seen a reduction in its total population and elderly residents over the past several decades. But look at the data and an exception becomes apparent – the number of people 85 and older is rising in the area (from 20,510 in 1990 to 33,421 in 2010).

This detail is significant because this oldest-of-the-old group is most likely to be frail, in poor health and in need of services such as caregiving, home health, nursing home, or home and community-based care.

Turn to another section of the Scripps website, and you’ll find the future coming into focus with projections for Ohio’s 60-plus population for 2020, 2030, 2040 and 2050. (Click on the option on the home page for the site called “County maps.” The data is displayed on a state map, county by county.)

There, data suggests that older adults will account for at least one-third of the population in 16 Ohio counties by 2050. In 2010, no counties met that threshold. That’s news and, when Scripps launched the site earlier this week, predictably it received some coverage. (See a brief story from the Associated Press here and another from the Dayton Daily News here.)

Shahla Mehdizadeh, director of research for the Ohio Long-Term Care Research Project at Scripps, told the Dayton paper that as jobs become hard to find, older adults put off retirement and young people leave the state in search of economic opportunities elsewhere, a vicious cycle comes into play.

“The state is in the position where its revenue is shrinking, but its obligation to the (elderly) population is going to gradually increase.”

Fine and well, you may be thinking, but I don’t live in Ohio, I don’t report about Ohio, and why should I care?
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‘Diversity gap’ could hinder support for baby boomers

Judith Graham

About Judith Graham

Judith Graham (@judith_graham), is a freelance journalist based in Denver and former topic leader on aging for AHCJ. She haswritten for the New York Times, Kaiser Health News, the Washington Post, the Journal of the American Medical Association, STAT News, the Chicago Tribune, and other publications.

We’ve all heard about the generation gap, a term that refers loosely to different expectations, experiences, tastes and pursuits that separate young and old people.

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William Frey, a demographer, highlighted an overlooked dimension of this divide – a widening diversity gap – in a Washington Post editorial last week. Simply put, older people are largely of white and European descent, while younger people are increasingly brown, black, Asian, and of mixed racial and ethnic origins.

“Recent census numbers show that white babies are, for the first time, a minority of all births, putting an exclamation point on a trend that has been building for decades,” wrote Frey, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution.

“Among Americans older than 50, 76 percent are white, and the black population, at 10 percent, is the largest minority. Among those younger than 30, 55 percent are whites. Hispanics, Asians and other nonblack minorities account for 31 percent of that age group. Younger people are much more likely to be first- and second-generation Americans of non-European ancestry and able to speak English and other languages.”

Why should this matter? The answer is that in society, as in families, young people help support those who are old. If there a sense of estrangement between the generations – or a sense of indifference – that support could become tenuous.

As Frey observes, “It is this diverse youth population that the largely white baby boomers will rely upon in their retirement years to keep paying into Social Security and Medicare.” Should youth not be prepared to assume that obligation by virtue of their values, economic circumstances or cultural antagonism, the consequences could be severe.

Yet older people seem to have what Frey calls “more than a little antipathy toward today’s diverse, younger Americans.” In a Pew Research Center survey published in November, “almost half of white boomers said the growing number of newcomers from other countries represented a threat to traditional U.S. customs and values,” he notes. Instead of embracing the generations’ interdependence, boomers appear to be largely unprepared for this vast change in America’s social fabric, Frey writes.

It’s an issue that also concerns the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on an Aging Society, a group of academics studying how social institutions should change to accommodate the needs of a growing older population.

“Many scholars wonder if people who are middle aged will continue to support entitlement programs for the elderly,” said Dr. John Rowe, chair of the MacArthur Aging Network, earlier this year. “Our group doesn’t think that’s the most important question. Instead, we’re asking whether middle-aged and young Hispanics will be willing to support older whites?”

Judith GrahamJudith Graham (@judith_graham), AHCJ’s topic leader on aging, is writing blog posts, editing tip sheets and articles and gathering resources to help our members cover the many issues around our aging society.

If you have questions or suggestions for future resources on the topic, please send them to judith@healthjournalism.org.

Add to that another question: What policies are needed to solidify the ties between generations as America ages and bridge this diversity gap?

Potential solutions seem obvious. Make sure young people of color and varied ethnic backgrounds get a good education. Give them economic opportunities. Invest in their health. Give them the tools to succeed and become an integral part of society, not marginalized. Yet, it’s not at all clear whether older Americans are willing to make these kinds of commitments, financially or politically.

Frey’s editorial is an attempt to change that and help Baby Boomers understand where their interests lie. Given the demographic realities upon us, he argues:

“Advancement of our young people into middle-class jobs at all skill levels is essential to future economic growth. That growth is, in turn, essential to our country’s ability to provide opportunities and social supports. Absent these investments, we are looking at a society whose members will be fighting over pieces of a shrinking pie.”

That is a very sobering prospect indeed for anyone concerned about our future and the prospects for our elderly population.