Life of the Modern Elderly American

May 28, 2014

We’re getting older as a nation. The pre-senior demographic is rising much faster than many had anticipated. Oh – and guess what else? Our younger contemporaries are opting to not have babies – at least, they’re not having them right now and instead are opting to wait to decide. So what does the contemporary elderly American look like? You might be surprised.

A new Brookings Institution report was released in late 2013; in it, we learned that the fastest growing segment of Americans are the “pre-seniors”. They’re described as those between the ages of 55 and 64. They’re healthier than previous generations and they’re working longer, too. In fact, there’s been a 110 percent increase of this segment in the past decade. Perhaps most important is they’re prepared for these freer years – their retirements are set, they’ve saved and worked hard to cover those bases and now they’re ready to pass the career torch.

It would also appear that southern cities seem to be the retirement place of choice. Austin, Texas and Raleigh, North Carolina are the “go to” places for a number of reasons (though not the only cities). First, these cities – and a few more – are beginning to rethink their images and opportunities. It’s also raising concerns about health challenges. Specifically, mobility for seniors and adequate housing are the top two priorities. The number of Americans 65 and older is likely to more than double in the next 50 years, and experts are warning that now’s the time to reshape the way cities are meeting these challenges.

Along with those challenges are the financial considerations. Strained budgets in city, state and federal levels are making it difficult to find the money to meet those growing needs. Coupled with Social Security and Medicare, which totaled $1.2 trillion in 2012, it’s easy to understand why the U.S. isn’t as prepared as other countries (the global population is aging – not just the U.S.).

“We haven’t faced up to the significance of aging of the population as a society, and it has huge implications,” both socially and financially, says Henry Cisneros, a former U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development and four-term mayor of San Antonio. Cisneros has focused on elder housing options for years.

For those who have financial options in their retirement years, with that comes a lot of location opportunities, as well. Some cities have a more nature-friendly draw (think Bulow Plantation with its many hiking, biking and other outdoor opportunities) that bode well with those who are still active in their retirement. Others consider similar locations for the many health benefits of warmer weather and access to beaches. If it sounds like something you might read in a vacation magazine, it’s because more seniors are approaching their retirement with that kind of mindset.
“They’ve made sacrifices during their working years – delayed vacations, careful saving and attention paid to their 401 (k) accounts….this is what their purpose was all along,” said one financial analyst familiar with the new studies.

Another important consideration has to do with the way generations interact with one another. “Communities need to think about how they integrate generations because one of the things that keeps a senior young is interacting with younger people. Whether it’s reading to preschool kids or counseling and mentoring teenagers, people feel better when they’re helping others and feel like their life is of value. It’s very easy as you get older to feel like you’re just a taker and you’re not a contributor,” says Bill Reed, 77 and a retired research physicist.

While there are some who are concerned about how to care for an expanded elderly population, there are those who are focused on ensuring their communities are inviting and prepared for this population in other ways. It’s not surprising that Florida is one of those states that’s indeed well aware of these opportunities.

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