The baby boomer population is edging into retirement. But is the United States ready?
The Census Bureau defines baby boomers as Americans born between 1946 and 1964, meaning that the oldest boomers are 66 and entering retirement age. But as the beginning of this mass retirement coincides with the country's greatest economic crisis in decades, the nation is asking itself whether it will have the institutional capacity to handle a flood of 60- and 70-somethings. Roughly 25 percent of the U.S. population consists of baby boomers, but that proportion can vary widely from place to place. Census data suggests that cities with the most boomers to accommodate are in the eastern United States, led by Portland, Maine, where baby boomers make up nearly 30 percent of the population. Meanwhile, those cities with the smallest boomer populations are in the West, clustered in Texas, Utah, and California. [See a slide show of the 10 cities with the highest concentrations of baby boomers.]
On a national level, perhaps the biggest concern about keeping up with the nation's aging boomers is that of entitlements. Projections of a national debt spiraling ever upward have prompted politicians to consider cuts to benefits for Social Security and Medicare, two entitlement programs that cater specifically to an aging population. The boomer population will very likely have a loud voice in those negotiations, as it has proven itself a political force to be reckoned with. Most boomers are eligible for the American Association of Retired Persons, open to Americans 50 and older. With 40 million members, AARP is one of the largest and most powerful special-interest groups in the nation. It was the sixth-highest spender on lobbying in 2010, laying out nearly $22.1 million in advocacy surrounding dozens of bills, particularly those dealing with health care-related issues. [See a slide show of the 10 cities with the lowest concentration of baby boomers.]
But local politics and programs are also of particular consequence to the boom generation, particularly as the budget fight that rages on Capitol Hill and in many states also affects municipalities and counties. According to a June report by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, a nonpartisan organization that advocates for programs benefiting aging Americans, financial and funding shortages are the No. 1 challenge that communities have to meeting the needs of elderly Americans. A survey of 1,459 municipalities and counties nationwide showed that fiscal difficulties were the top obstacle to meeting the needs of older Americans. One major way in which that played out was in a decline in property tax relief for older adults. Seventy-two percent of surveyed local governments provided this in 2005, compared to just 54 percent in 2009.
Still, many cities have weathered their fiscal woes admirably, in terms of the services they maintained for their aging populations through the recession. Jo Reed, a senior program manager at the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, says that in 2010, many cities had "pretty much the same level of programs, services, and policies that seemed to particularly benefit older adults" that they had in 2005. But those systems won't be sustainable for long: "Given this tremendous dramatic growth in the older population, that's just not going to be enough." [Read about the 10 cities with the highest and lowest real incomes.]
Two areas that may particularly suffer are transportation and housing, which the survey showed to be localities' second- and third-biggest challenges to planning for an aging population. Three-quarters of communities have not yet begun to provide mobility management services to older adults, helping them to understand their transit options and how to use them. And subsidized housing availability benefiting older adults slipped to 63 percent in 2010 from 70 percent in 2005. Though these concerns may not currently be pressing concerns to many boomers, particularly those on the younger end of that generation, Allen says that such programs must be improved in many places in order to accommodate the coming wave of senior citizens.
According to a U.S. News analysis of census data, these are the 10 metropolitan areas (population 300,000 or greater) with the largest proportions of baby boomers.
|Metro Area||Population||Boomer Population||Boomer %|
|Portland-South Portland-Biddeford, Maine||516,826||154,375||29.9%|
|Santa Rosa-Petaluma, Calif.||472,102||138,980||29.4%|
|Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, Fla.||536,357||155,219||28.9%|