The post-World War II baby boomer generation is aging. The 2020 Census data shows Frederick County’s 65 and over population to be 39,399, an increase of 52% from 2010, and represents 14.5% of the total population.1 “Older boomers,” those born in the first few years after WWII, are now in their 70’s.
While the median age of seniors is now just over 73 years, greater numbers of people living much longer has created a “new old age” that is rewriting the playbook for everything from housing and transportation to health care, recreation and work. The 2020 Census shows more than 15,000 Frederick County residents are 75 and over.
We’re living longer, and there are more of us, but we don’t really know what to do about it. Advocates for the Aging was created with these needs in mind. We want to encourage data-driven decision-making that seeks new ways of approaching the needs and wishes of seniors.
By 2050, the number of people over 85 in the country is projected to grow 231%, making it the fastest growing segment of the population.2 In Frederick County, the 2020 ACS population of those 85 and over was 5,145, a 141% increase from 2016 estimates, and 2045 projections show a population of 18,603, a whopping 261% increase over the 2020 number.3
This “extra decade” or more of longevity can be a great blessing, but for most it also brings “multiple chronic conditions, disabilities and fragile health.”4 It demands a great deal of help, care and resources, and there are few if any plans in place to deal with that reality. The simple fact is that no matter how healthy one is for a long period of time, the bulk of Medicare expenditures are made in the last 18 months of life. How do we create person-centered, local care that focuses on the individual’s wants and needs, and make the end of life, when it comes, as calm and caring as possible?
A New “Middle” Old Age
We used to know what old age looked like. When Medicare was created in 1965, the average American died at age 70. Despite a drop in life expectancy rates due to the COVID pandemic (2019-2021), the average life expectancy from birth in Maryland now stands at 78.5 years.5 The 2020 ACS shows that 45% of all seniors in Frederick County over 65 reported earned income – a sign that baby boomers are retiring later, moving to self-employment and moving to part-time employment. Grandparents are also caring for children: 1,380 children resided with grandparents who had responsibility for their care and needs in 2019, representing 5% of all Frederick County households.6
According to a 2013 Pew Research Center study, 47 percent of American adults in their 40’s and 50’s had a parent 65 or older and were also either raising a young child or financially supporting a child 18 or older. Many of these middle-aged adults provide some degree of financial support for parents, especially since the 2008 financial crash, and 38 percent reported that both their parents and children relied on them for emotional support. Many of these same individuals are working longer while wondering how they will continue to care for everyone depending on them. How do we provide better caregiving and support working individuals?
And in case you thought it was a “dying” issue….
The Millennial generation, individuals born between 1981 and 1997, grew to 72.1 million in 2019,7 just overtaking the Baby Boomers. With a peak population of 81.1 million projected in 20368 – just 14 years from now, when the oldest Millennial is 55, issues connected to aging aren’t going away. In fact, if we don’t create new ways to structure life after 60, things are going to be a whole lot worse.
Using Data in Our Planning and Programs
The data listed on our “Vital Statistics” page is only useful if we pay attention to it, find connections, and then use it to identify the strengths and needs in our community structures. For example, how to do we connect projections in population with the need for housing (and what type of housing?), individuals’ ability to pay for housing, and disabilities: the need for accessibility and assistive devices? For more information on how Advocates is raising these questions and pursuing projects and policies that address them, visit our other website pages and join us for the conversation.
2 An Aging Nation: The Older Population in the United States, U.S. Census Bureau
3 MD Department of Planning, MD Data Center
4 MediCaring Communities: Getting What We Want and Need in Frail Old Age at an Affordable Cost, Joanne Lynn, MD, and The Center for Elder Care and Advanced Illness, Altarum Institute
5 Life Expectancy at Birth by State (cdc.gov)
6 Kids Count Data Center, Annie E. Casey Foundation
7 Millennials overtake Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation