As I face my 69th birthday, I am troubled by cutbacks in senior services when programs for aging adults are more necessary than ever.
People 65 and older have become the largest percentage and fastest-growing group in the United States. Baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, are becoming seniors at a rate of 10,000 people each day.
According to the US Census Bureau, the number of Americans 65 and older will more than double from 43 million in 2012 to 92 million in 2060. The senior percentage of the total population will rise to 24 percent—now 15 percent and up from 10 percent in the 1950s. The growth in the number of people 85 and older will be more dramatic with a projected increase from 6 million to 18 million. Because of the aging population, the number of individuals living with a disability is also surging.
Projections for New Mexico reveal an even faster growth rate. According to the New Mexico Aging and Long-Term Services Department, the number of New Mexicans age 60 and older will double what it was in 2000, and the number of people 85 and older will triple by 2030. New Mexico will rank 4th (up from 29th) in the nation in percentage of population over 60. To compound matters, fifteen percent of New Mexicans age 60 or older live at or below the federal poverty level. New Mexico ranks 8th in the nation for senior hunger and 5th for food insecurity. Seniors living in sparsely populated and geographically isolated areas experience additional challenges.
What do we do to ensure that we, our parents, our friends and neighbors and eventually our children have what is needed to maintain maximum independence, dignity, autonomy, safety, well-being, and self-determination during the aging process?
First, we need to recognize that this is not the same country it was when the Older Americans Act passed. As many will recall, during the 1960s, the OAA was one of the hundreds of pieces of legislation that supported the elderly, the environment, children, minorities, the poor and vulnerable (e.g., Older Americans Act, The Clean Air Act, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Civil Rights Act, Food Stamp Act, Housing & Urban Development Act, Wilderness Act, Voting Rights Act, School Lunch Act, Water Pollution Control Act, Immigration and Naturalization Act (requiring the acceptance of immigrants of all nationalities), and the Social Security Act that created Medicare and Medicaid).
Instead of an era where equality and justice governs, we now live in a place where, more often, leadership puts profits before people and self-interest before public interest.
Despite this, I am encouraged by the facts that seniors are the most significant part of the population likely to vote. Also, baby boomers and millennials, who outnumber baby boomers, are said to be the two groups most likely to protest injustices and fight for human rights.
I am encouraged by our caring and creative community. I am hopeful because some communities, legislatures, organizations, and individuals are responding to this graying trend and putting programs and policies in place. New Mexico’s Aging and Long-Term Services Department provides useful information and is a good starting point to see what could be available locally http://www.nmaging.state.nm.us/senior-services.aspx
I would like this column to be a voice of encouragement for and information about creative solutions focusing on the increasing challenges affecting the lives of older adults.
Future columns will highlight activities, opportunities, trends, interviews, legislation, partnerships, perspectives, and possibilities.
Suggestions are always welcome.