The older population is growing and becoming more diverse

The older population is growing and becoming more diverse

The older population is growing and becoming more diverse

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The Administration for Community Living (ACL) has published its profile of older Americans 2021, an annual summary of critical statistics related to the older population. The updated report shows an older population that’s increasing in size and diversity.

There’s a wealth of data in this report journalists can use as a starting point to report on local and state social services, community programs, Medicaid expenditures, housing, transportation and myriad other issues affecting older adults — defined by the Administration on Aging as those 65 and older.

Using data primarily from the U.S. Census Bureau, the National Center for Health Statistics, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the report found: 

  • More than 55 million people were 65 or older in 2020 (30.8 million women and 24.8 million men) 
  • This group (people ages 65 and older) comprised 17% of the U.S. population in 2020, up a full percentage from the prior year. That proportion is expected to grow to 22% by 2040. Of those, nearly one in four (24%) were members of racial or ethnic minority populations in 2020.  
  • Over the next two decades, the white (non-Hispanic) older population is expected to grow by 26% while older racial and ethnic minority populations are expected to swell by 105%: Hispanic (148%), African American (not Hispanic) (73%), American Indian and Alaska Native (not Hispanic) (58%), and Asian American (not Hispanic) (93%). 

Where older people live

In 2020, Maine was the state with the highest percentage of the population 65 and older, at 22%. Next, were Florida, West Virginia and Vermont, with 21% each. In nine states, the older population increased by more than 50% between 2010 and 2020: Alaska (73%), Nevada (59%), Colorado (58%), Idaho (56%), Arizona (55%), South Carolina (53%), Utah (52%), Delaware (52%), and Georgia (51%). 

The report includes a state-by-state breakdown of the 65+ population, including percent of the population, percent change since 2010 and percentage below the poverty level.

This increase is due in part to longer life expectancy, which has increased dramatically since the turn of the last century. In 1900, only about 4% of Americans were 65 and older. Today, it’s more than four times that. And the older population itself is older — the number of people 85+ living today is more than 54 times greater than it was in 1900. Superagers are also thriving. There were 104,819 people 100 and older in 2020 — more than triple that in 1980 (32,194). 

However, 2020 also saw life expectancy at birth decrease, primarily due to higher mortality from COVID-19, from 78.8 years in 2019 to 77.0 in 2020. Unintentional injuries, heart disease, homicide, and diabetes also contributed to lower life expectancy, according to the report.

Older people and chronic conditions

When it comes to health care, 20% of the population 65 to 74 rated their health as fair or poor, while 27% of the population 75 and older said they were in fair or poor health. Most older Americans reported at least one chronic condition including:

  • Arthritis (47%) 
  • Coronary heart disease (14%) 
  • Myocardial infarction (9%) 
  • Angina (4%) 
  • Any cancer (26%) 
  • COPD, emphysema, or chronic bronchitis (11%) 
  • Diagnosed diabetes (21%) 

Additionally, 18% of adults ages 65 and older reported they could not function at all or had a lot of difficulty with at least one of six functioning domains: vision, hearing, mobility, mobility, communication, cognition or self-care.

The report also includes a section on family caregiving, However, be aware that the numbers cited are from 2017-2018 (40.4 million caregivers). Newer data shows that number is more than 53 million today. Some 58% of family caregivers are female.

Costs are problematic

Out-of-pocket health care expenses (including insurance) jumped 38% since 2010, averaging $6,668 among this cohort. In contrast, the total population spent considerably less, averaging $5,177 in out-of-pocket costs in 2020. Older Americans spent 14% of their total expenditures on health, compared to 8.4% among all consumers. 

Health costs as a percent of income can be particularly challenging for older women, who are at an economic disadvantage compared with older men. While the median income for all older adults was $26,688 in 2020, women reported substantially less income than men ($21,245 vs. $35,808). Some 5 million elders (about one in 10) lived below the federal poverty level; another 2.6 million were “near poor.” 

One statistically significant data point is that real median income (after adjusting for inflation) of all households headed by older people decreased by 3.3% from 2019 to 2020. The report does not specify a reason for this change, so it could be interesting to see how inflation, the pandemic, unemployment and other factors affected real income among this population in your community.

Real median income could also be one reason why a significant number of older Americans — 10.6 million — were still in the workforce in 2021, (working or actively seeking work); that’s about the same as in 2020. However, unemployment levels were lower in 2021 among this group — 4.5% compared to 7.5% in 2020. 

Reports dating back to 2005 are available from ACL including downloadable data tables. You can compare various national and state data points — from marital status to physical functioning to see change over time and whether your state has plans in place for taking care of its older population.

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