Elderly population on the rise in Nebraska

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January 23rd, 2014

Omaha, NE — According to the recent Kids Count in Nebraska report, the population of people age 65 years and older will increase to 21 percent of all Nebraskans in 2050. This age group made up just 13.8 percent of the population in 2012.
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Jerry Deichert, Director of the Center for Public Affairs at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said that the spike in that demographic indicates several impacts for the state of Nebraska.

“What are the goods and services that the elder typically use? As the population gets older those items are going to be disproportionately in greater demand,” Deichert said. “The other thing that will happen is the types of work people do. Some people might leave the labor force and retire. Some might leave the work they’re doing now and take on a different kind of job.”

The Congressional Budget Office projects that by 2023, three-fifths of all federal spending for health care programs will finance health care for people over age 65.

Jeff Reinhardt, the public affairs officer for the Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging, said supply and demand for services to support the elderly don’t always match up. ENOA is a government agency that provides older Nebraskans with a number of services and programs including Meals on Wheels, transportation and care management.

“Like any government program, there are “X” amount of dollars available and as the older population grows in Nebraska the demand for services increases, and I’m afraid that the dollars to meet those services aren’t always growing at the same rate. The flow of money to provide aging services has gotten pretty stagnant recently,” Reinhardt said.

But Nebraskans over the age of 65 don’t all need the same services, according to Julie Masters, chair of UNO’s Department of Gerontology. She said multiple cohorts exist for people 65 and older. There are the young old who are 65-74; the old who are 75-84; and the oldest old who are 85 and older.

“There are a number of concerns, but it depends on which older person you’re talking about. The curious thing about aging is as people get older they become more different as opposed to becoming more alike,” Masters said.

David Drozd, research coordinator at the Center for Public Affairs at UNO, said as baby boomers  grow older, their influence will remain strong.

“The baby boomer generation has been a driver of economic trends and preference throughout their life cycle,” Drozd said. “They will be large drivers of economic activity and consumer preference. I think you’ll see more products and services catering to that population group.”

Transportation

Masters said location also plays an important part in the type of services that may be needed in the future.

“The kinds of services that folks might be receiving may be different in Scottsbluff or Broken Bow than it might be in Omaha or Lincoln. However, if I’ve lived in a rural area all my life my expectation of accessibility is going to be different as well,” Masters said.

For elderly people who are used to traveling an hour or more to get to the doctor’s office or a grocery store, the distance is not a big deal, according to Masters. But challenges arise when someone is no longer able to drive and accessibility to public transportation is no longer an option.

“There are eight area agencies on aging in the state of Nebraska. These are issues that they are starting to look at as well. How are we going to best serve our population with limited resources and also with limited services? And they have been very creative in trying to address those needs,” Masters said.

Retirement

It is unclear whether those who have reached retirement age are delaying the milestone because they can’t afford to or because they simply don’t desire to leave the workforce, according to Jerry Deichert.

Currently, there are some 50,000 Nebraskans who are 65 and older who are still in the workforce, which equates to about 20 percent of those who are 65 and older.

“One of the things that we’ve noticed nationally is that the population 65 and older the labor force participation rate has been increasing over the last few years so people are staying in the labor force longer than they had been 10, 15, 20 years ago,” Deichert said.

Deichert also said that older Nebraskans in rural areas are more likely to be in the labor force than those in urban areas.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 15 percent of the labor force was 65 and older. The agency projects that by 2020, nearly 22 percent of those who are 65 and older are going to be an increasing share of the labor force.

This could mean fewer job opportunities for other Nebraskans in different age groups, according to Drozd.

“There might be some increased competition for the jobs that are available based on whether the economy expands or retracts we are going to see as people work longer it’s going to be more difficult for people right out of college or high school…

Care

The question still remains: Who will support older ones who may not be able to maintain their independence without some help?

“Sometimes we think that adult children will abandon their parents and won’t provide that support. I think that’s more of a myth than a reality,” Masters said. “We know that adult children are engaged in providing support to their parents and we know that other relatives are there to provide that support.”

Masters said high divorce rates and a decrease in family sizes, may lead people to think that the caregiver people have grown to expect is either absent or unavailable. She also said that the future is going to present itself with unique challenges and opportunities to fill the gap that has traditionally been covered by family members.

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