The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 14, 2013

Plans needed to handle graying population


The Mankato Free Press

---- — People turning a 100 years old isn’t as rare as it used to be, so we shouldn’t be surprised to find out that the life expectancy of the world’s population is rapidly increasing.

The problem is that it’s happening so fast that most countries are not prepared. A study recently issued by the United Nations and an elderly rights group now provides the data to put that problem into perspective and should prompt world leaders to give the issue the attention it deserves.

The report reveals that nations are simply not working quickly enough to cope with a growing graying population. By 2050, for the first time in history, seniors older than 60 will outnumber children younger than 15.

Of course the fact that people are living longer speaks highly of advances in health care and nutrition. But with that comes the reality that many countries still fail to address basic needs for its senior citizens, such as health care and housing.

This is not just an issue for developing countries. Demographers in the United States, including Minnesota, have sounded the alarm about the need to make long-range plans in dealing with a large elderly population. In Minnesota an unprecedented increase in the population of residents 65 and older is expected, jumping from 285,000 in the 2010 years to 335,000 in the 2020s. That means there will be more senior citizens age 65 and older than school-age children who are ages 5 to 17.

With that increase in older folks typically comes higher medical expenses, higher long-term care costs, more prevalence of disability, a reduction in income-tax collections, slower labor force growth and possible slower gross domestic product growth.

And with the stresses on the economy also come the benefits, including a high rate of mentoring, entrepreneurship and volunteerism, with Minnesota having the second highest rate of volunteerism in the nation. The National Association of States United for Aging and Disabilities recognized the state’s Share Minnesota campaign with this year’s national Volunteers Matter Award.

In this state, we are lucky that efforts are being made to connect seniors to the information they need. One Stop Shop for Minnesota Seniors helps seniors and their families get information about state government and other services. In late August, the Start Minnesota initiative was unveiled, which is designed to help older Minnesotans find work by providing information and access to local employment resources (visit MinnesotaHelp.info).

Despite this attention paid to seniors, it’s obvious more has to be done on many levels to make sure the state is ready for this dramatic shift in demographics. Housing, tax collections, health care and employment are all affected. Community and government leaders need to plan for the future, taking steps to make sure preparations are made for a graying population.