Last week on the AgingOptions blog, we presented part one of our report on this article from Kaiser Health News. In this insightful article, writer Judith Graham took a look into the future – well, into the coming decade, anyway – and described, as the title says, “What the 2020s Have in Store for Baby Boomers.” Between now and 2030, all of the nation’s 74 million baby boomers will have reached the age of 65, and those on the leading edge will have reached 85. What will the 2020s mean for boomers? If the experts are correct, we’re in for a decidedly mixed bag of technological advances mixed with some serious societal issues that could make aging an even greater challenge for those unprepared.
Boomer Predictions Reveal a Nation Unprepared for Changing Demographics
In preparing her article, Graham interviewed a dozen experts and asked them what trends they foresaw in the decade ahead. Their answers ran the gamut from hopeful to sobering. “Our nation isn’t prepared for this vast demographic shift and its far-reaching consequences,” the Kaiser Health News article states. The report spotlights seven broad societal trends that will have a major impact on baby boomers. Last week in part one, we looked at three of these trends: a looming crisis in care as more boomers live with disabilities; a longer, healthier life for some; and scientific advances that will allow doctors to attack disease at the cellular level and slow down the aging process.
For this week’s part two, let’s look beyond health care. Here’s what the experts told Graham concerning some other major social trends that will affect aging boomers:
Boomer Prediction Number Four: A Social Infrastructure That Is More Age-Friendly
It’s encouraging to read that many of the experts consulted by Judith Graham believe that the needs of a growing cohort of older people will require our society to invest in the kind of changes that will help make healthy aging more attainable. “Their wish list,” says Graham: “make transportation more readily available, build more affordable housing, modify homes and apartments to help seniors age in place, and create programs to bring young and old people together.” That all sounds like a great idea, especially considering the fact that those in the 65-plus age group will outnumber kids 13 and under by 2025 – 65 million seniors compared with 58 million youngsters. But we wonder if the “wish list” is realistic.
Much of this change will supposedly be targeted at helping seniors stay connected to others, since the dangers of loneliness and isolation are becoming better understood. AARP published this recent report describing a nationwide movement to create “age-friendly communities,” and professionals in the health-care arena are working to make emergency rooms and doctor’s offices less intimidating for older patients. Technology is also expected to play a growing role in helping seniors age in place, supported by Alexa and chatting away on Skype.
Boomer Prediction Number Five: A “National Conversation” About Combating Ageism
“Altering negative attitudes about aging — such as a widespread view that this stage of life is all about decline, loss and irrelevance — needs to be a high priority,” says Graham in her Kaiser article. One expert who spoke with Graham called age discrimination, or ageism, “the biggest threat to improving quality of life” for American seniors. As a society, we need to start viewing the later stages of life as “productive, meaningful and fulfilling.”
There are signs that people are starting to take ageism more seriously. “The World Health Organization has launched a global campaign to combat ageism,” says Graham, and cities such as San Francisco have started public awareness campaigns to overcome negative stereotypes about growing older. On top of that, one academic told Kaiser Health News, the sheer number of aging boomers may help shift public attitudes as, once again, the baby boom cohort defies generational stereotypes.
Boomer Prediction Number Six: Scientific Advances Collide with Social Inequality
To paraphrase an old saying, “the rich get richer while the poor get sicker.” All the new therapies promised by cutting-edge science will probably be extraordinarily expensive – and that, say the experts, raises ethical issues. “Will the miracles of bioscience be available to all in the next decade — or only to those with the resources and connections to access special treatment?” asked Paul Irving, chairman of the Milken Institute’s Center for the Future of Aging. We’re already seeing dramatic evidence of growing inequality, Graham states: “The rich are living longer, while the poor are dying sooner. And the gap in their life expectancies is widening.”
The Kaiser article says that, if the current 9 percent poverty rate among seniors remains constant, by 2030 “more than 7 million older persons will live without sufficient income to pay for their food, medications and utilities.” People of color, especially women, will be disproportionately affected by inequalities in access to health care, and those consulted for the Graham article say this issue will be a major policy debate in the decade ahead if we want to ensure a healthier later life for the greatest number of Americans.
Boomer Prediction Number Seven: Many Will Work Longer Out of Necessity
“How will economically vulnerable seniors survive?” Graham asks. “Many will see no choice but to try to work” well past age 65. As people live longer and savings rates lag, a large number of Americans (some estimates put the figure at over 40 percent) risk of running out of money in retirement. However, many at-risk seniors may find it impossible to work as long as they’d like, partly due to ageism, and partly due to poor health. Some seniors may also find their skills insufficient for a high-tech workplace.
“Will working longer be a realistic alternative for seniors? Trends point in the opposite direction,” says Graham. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that, by 2026, less than one-third of adults ages 65 to 74 will be working, well below the number who say they plan to stay employed. “We must address ageism and ageist attitudes within the workplace,” one AARP official told Kaiser Health News. “A new understanding of lifelong learning and training, as well as targeted public and private sector investments to help certain groups transition [from old jobs to new ones], will be essential.”
A Timeless Boomer Prediction: You Need a Comprehensive Retirement Plan
As we said last week, no matter what the future holds, some things remain the same. As the old adage puts it, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Don’t let that be your story in retirement! Instead, we encourage you to come and experience a fresh approach to retirement planning by joining Rajiv Nagaich from AgingOptions at an upcoming free LifePlanning Seminar. You’ll discover how finances, family matters, health care, housing plans, and legal protection – the five essentials of retirement planning – can all be woven together in to a retirement plan called a LifePlan, a blueprint to allow you to build the retirement of your dreams.
Visit our Live Events page for a calendar of currently scheduled seminars and register for the date and time of your choice. We predict you’ll be very glad you did – and that’s one prediction that’s virtually a sure thing. Age on!
(originally reported at www.khn.org)