Partners (Number 2, 2008)

Responding to an Aging Population

mature African-American couple Today, more than one in eight Americans is over the age of 65. That's over 35 million people. By 2030, it will be almost one in five (over 71 million people).

This growing segment of the population will have tremendous implications for housing, transportation, social and financial services, and health care. The demographic shift will call for innovations to meet changing needs, especially at a time of diminishing resources and an uncertain economic future.

For example, many empty-nesters are considering downsizing their homes or may be considering home retrofits that enable them to maintain independence as some of their physical abilities diminish. In other cases, with expectations of more leisure time as they approach or enter retirement, some older adults are seeking communities with greater amenities.

All of these preferences have implications for the communities where older adults currently reside or will reside. This includes the need to provide appropriate and affordable housing options that are supported by transportation systems and social services that recognize changing needs.

Related Links
Atlanta Regional Commission

You can also e-mail Cathie Berger, Division Chief, Aging Services, Atlanta Regional Commission, or call (404) 463-3235.

What does this mean for the Southeast?
The national demographic trends have serious implications for the Southeast. By 2030 more than 13.7 million older adults (age 65 and older) are projected to live in the Southeast (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee). That's up from 5.7 million in 2000. Honing in on just Florida, the U.S. Census Bureau projects the state's population over the age of 65 will grow from 17.6 percent of total residents in 2000 to 27.1 percent in 2030 (see graph).

The needs that result from this shift will put additional stress on states and metropolitan areas already struggling with budget deficits, deteriorating infrastructure, housing affordability and increasing unemployment.

A strategy for communities
As people age, their activities, household composition, social networks and financial resources evolve. So too must their homes, communities and the services that support them. While some baby-boomers will gravitate to sunnier climates and amenity-laden cities, most will choose to stay where they are currently living. This means that every city, county and state will need to adapt to accommodate aging in place.

Percentage of population 65 & older
in 2000 and 2030
Chart: Percentage of population age 65 & older in 2000 & 2030
U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division, Interim State Population Projections, 2005.

One innovative response can be found in the Atlanta Regional Commission's Lifelong Communities Initiative. The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) serves 10 counties and over 60 cities in the Atlanta metropolitan area. ARC's initiative works to achieve three major goals: promote housing and transportation options, encourage healthy lifestyles, and expand information and access to services. This three-pronged approach earned ARC the 2007 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Active Aging Award.

Through partnerships with local elected officials and government staff, business leaders and community groups, this initiative is transforming cities, counties and neighborhoods into places where individuals can live throughout their lifetime. Using a bottom-up approach, the initiative brings together professionals with a wide range of expertise, older adults and caregivers to form county-based partnerships that analyze the local data, challenges and opportunities to identify priorities and implement strategies.

The Initiative's focus on creating multi-generational communities where individuals from several age groups live in one neighborhood is consistent with consumer studies by Del Webb and Robert Charles Lesser and Company. Specifically, the studies suggest that the preferences of aging baby-boomers and Generations X and Y are converging to call for more compact and walkable neighborhoods.

Such preferences are driven in part by higher gas prices, increasing traffic congestion and a desire for more healthy lifestyles. The result is an increased demand for existing and new communities where residents can walk to stores or a transit stop, bike along neighborhood trails and mingle with their neighbors.

These model communities require partnerships among local governments, real estate developers, financial institutions, community groups and social service providers as well as a coordination of policies and infrastructure investments. With shared vision and purpose, these partners can create sustainable communities for people of any age.

This article was written by Karen Leone de Nie, Community Affairs research manager at the Atlanta Fed.