HELP LINE: Demographics show who older Americans are

EXACTLY WHO DO you think you are?

Or, more to the point, exactly who do we think we are?


About this time every year I think it’s fun to take a quick look at who the U.S. Census Bureau, the National Center for Health Statistics and the Bureau of Labor Statistics think we are.

For instance:

• Throughout the past 10 years, the U.S. population age 65 or better increased from 37.2 million in 2006 to 49.2 million (that’s a 33 percent jump) and is projected to almost double to 98 million in 2060.


So, 1) there are a lot of us, 2) there are going to be more of us, and 3) we vote.

• Between 2006 and 2016, the 60 and older crowd grew by 36 percent, from 50.7 million to 68.7 million, and get this: The 85-or-better group is projected to more than double from 6.4 million in 2016 to 14.6 million in 2040 (that’s a 129 percent jump, if you care).

And just so you know how stubborn some of us can be, there were 81,896 folks age 100 or more in 2016.

Wow! So, it’s true. And Harvey was right all along.

All those “dire predictions” about more and more of us refusing to die on schedule were, apparently, accurate. (Why would the latter surprise you? Well, OK.)

That’s way too many people to marginalize and way too many people to ignore and a whole lot of people paying taxes.

Hmm. And, by the way, why are (or, “were”) those predictions so “dire?”

Yeah, OK, change is scary, but do we imagine that all of us are just cruising two-lane roads in three-block-long RVs, listening to Elvis Presley and Guy Lombardo?

OK, some are, but the rest of us are working or raising grandchildren or starting career No. 5 or paying off student loans, etc.

We are not separate from the “mainstream.”

We are the mainstream.

But, I digress.

There’s more:

• Of that older adult population, racial and ethnic minority populations increased from 6.9 million in 2006 to 11.1 million in 2016, heading for 21.1 million by 2030.

So, I guess it really isn’t 1860.

Consider this: Once we make it to 65, we have an average life expectancy of an additional 19.4 years (20.6 for females vs. 18.0 for males).

The next calculation some of us might want to make is the average life expectancy of our incomes.

However, given the above, it shouldn’t surprise us that:

• Older women outnumber older men 27.5 million to 21.8 million, a much larger percentage of older men are married (70 percent of men vs. 46 percent of women), which would make sense, right?

Almost half (45 percent) of older women 75 or better lived alone.

That’s worth a moment’s reflection, for those among us who can see past noon tomorrow.

Try this: The median income of older persons in 2016 was $31,618 for males and $18,280 for females. Wow.

• The major sources of income reported by older persons in 2015 were Social Security (84 percent), income from assets (63 percent), earnings (29 percent), private pensions (37 percent) and government employee pensions (16 percent).

• Social Security constituted 90 percent or more of the income received by 34 percent of beneficiaries in 2015 (23 percent of married couples vs. 43 percent for non-married,) and

• 4.6 million of older adults — almost one in 10 — were below the poverty level in 2016.

These aren’t sound-bites, political ads or sales promotions. These are objective facts.

Will all of this apply to all of us?

Good heavens, no.

These are huge trends across the U.S., not a palm-reading for most of us for next week, but there might be things to be learned, considered or planned for. Or, at least, discussed.

And let’s all remember that these are simply observable, reportable data on demographics.

You’ll note that there’s nothing in here about happiness, fulfillment, achievement, inclusion, purpose or hope.

Or laughter.

The world has changed, and it will never be the same.

Of course, that’s been true every single day since the Beginning of Days, so what are we to do?

I don’t know, but I can tell you what I’m going to do:

I’m going to do the best job I can of living in the “what is” and “what will be,” rather than the “what was.”

It’s probably true that we cannot fully understand where we are unless we understand where we’ve been, but here’s one of Harvey’s Laws:

People who spend a lot of time looking in the rearview tend to run into things.


Mark Harvey is director of Clallam/Jefferson Senior Information & Assistance, which operates through the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He is also a member of the Community Advocates for Rural Elders partnership. He can be reached at 360-452-3221 (Port Angeles-Sequim), 360-385-2552 (Jefferson County) or 360-374-9496 (West End), or by emailing [email protected].

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