The Silver Tsunami – a wave of retirees
The Administration on Aging claims that there are 44 million Americans age 65 and older, nearly a 25 percent increase over the last 11 years. They account for about 15 percent of the current U.S. population, but expected to grow to nearly 22 percent by 2040. By 2033, there will be more Americans 65 and older than those 18 and younger for the first time in the nation’s history. There already are 19 states over the 15 percent senior population average nationwide. If the U.S. seniors population were a separate country, it would be the third largest nation on earth.
The reasons for the expansion of seniors in our population are quite obvious. First, is the bulge in births during and after World War II causing the so-called “Baby Boom” generation, which is now passing the age 65 mark. Second, is the tremendous improvement in health care and related increasing longevity of our population. Third, in percentage terms, is the rapid drop in the birthrate during the past three decades, thereby reducing the growth rate of the population under age 65. Given the growing improvements in good health, particularly the reduction of tobacco products, the increasing older population can be expected to contribute more productivity as well as consumer consumption to the national economy. Yes, of course, health care needs increase with age, but improved health treatment, coupled with universal health coverage, will increase gainful employment as well as volunteer service from the silver-hair population. This trend is already underway in most parts of the country, as we see more seniors filling lower paid positions in retail outlets and fast food establishments.
Given the continuing addition of both permanent and seasonal senior residents in Florida, some observers have suggested that this state is a model of the national demographic yet to come. It already contains the largest and fastest growing age 55-plus retirement community in the nation. The Villages, now over 100,000 residents and growing, is changing the face of central Florida. Its residents prefer detached small homes with a wide range of recreation and entertainment facilities. They contribute to the state economy through three regional shopping centers with convenient access by two-seat electric neighborhood vehicles as well as public bus service and personal automobiles. A large number of the residents are employed within the community. And, airports in Orlando, Tampa and Gainesville are nearby to serve those who can afford to travel on vacation or visit grandchidren.
Although The Villages and other gated age-segregated communities designed for seniors continue to increase in Florida, many seniors prefer to live in unrestricted communities among young families similar to their prior northern neighborhoods. If Florida is to serve as a model for the future of American older demographics, it will require a more sensitive government tuned in to the safe mobility needs of seniors to travel both short and long distances, such as the privately financed high-speed passenger train currently being constructed between Miami and Orlando and the automatic light rail carriers already in use at Disney World.
A better and safer world designed for seniors will be a better and safer world for everyone.
David F. Parker, September, 2015.