HELP LINE: Always remember that aging is an accomplishment

EVERY YEAR AT about this time, the U.S. Census Bureau, National Center for Health Statistics, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and probably several dozen other bureaus, administrations and departments generate a “Profile of Older Americans” (or something like that).

I always get a kick out of sharing some of these “big picture” demographics because … I’m easily entertained.

Well, yes, but I also delude myself into thinking it’s helpful to be able to back away from the microcosms of our daily lives and see what the statistical macrocosm actually looks like.

For instance, did you know that between 2007 and 2017 the population age 65 or older increased from 37.8 million to 50.9 million? Of course you didn’t.

Further, that same crowd (us) is projected to hit 94.7 million by 2060.

We’re winning. We’re also a voting bloc …

In that same period, the 60-or-older crowd increased from 52.5 million to 70.8 million.

Granted, “60” is a somewhat arbitrary number, but it does confirm that (a) we are just not dying on schedule and (b) a lot of us are not all atwitter on Twitter about the latest adolescent phenom.

Thus, one would think these simple facts might suggest something to the powers-that-be, like that they should fix Social Security.

Let’s make this plain:

• More than one in every seven (15.6 percent) of the folks in this country are “older Americans,” defined as 65 or older.

Better than one in seven. That is not a minority.

But, let’s stagger onward:

• The 85-or-older crowd is projected to more than double from 6.5 million in 2017 to 14.4 million by 2040. That’s 21 years from now.

• In 2017, there were 86,248 folks age 100 and older.

Stop. Remember when hitting 100 was an unheard-of event?

I do. Now, it isn’t.

Consider this:

• If you’re 65 today, you have an average life expectancy of an additional 19.5 years (20.6 for females, 18.1 for males).

So, 85ish, right?

True, that’s an average, but it might make us want to think about our retirement planning, like (a) will I outlive my money? (b) How bored am I going to get if I don’t engage in something worth engaging in? or, (c) why am I acting “old” at age 60? There’s a lot of road left ahead.

• None of us will be shocked to hear “older women” (I’m sorry — I didn’t make up these terms) outnumber “older men” (Yes, 65 or older) 28.3 million to 22.6 million.

Predictably, then, a larger percentage of older men are married (70 percent) as opposed to older women (46 percent).

In 2018, 32 percent of older women were widows. Think about that.

Think about this:

• Among women 75 or older, 44 percent lived alone. Right: 44 percent.

That should tell us something about how we plan the trajectories of our lives, understanding that “planning” can only go so far.

Still, it warrants a modicum of reflection: Will Mom be just fine in the four-bedroom, tri-level home? Well …

• … the median income for older persons in 2017 — that means that 50 percent are above and 50 percent are below — was $32,654 for males and $19,180 for females.

The latter equals $1,598 per month.

Is there something wrong with this picture?

What’s the average minimum wage for making and raising babies?

What? I didn’t hear you …

• In fact, in good old 2017, 4,681,000 older adults were below poverty level.

If that makes sense to somebody, I wish that somebody would explain to me: In what universe does having 4.5 million elders at poverty level seem rational?

OK, I’ll calm down …

• Here’s the last one for today: For folks age 75 or older, 42 percent reported that TV is their first source of emergency information, as opposed to 31 percent for the general population.

Specifically, 9 percent of elders reported receiving information via the internet, as opposed to that 31 percent for the general population.

The profile goes on (and on) to discuss the need for caregiving, racial/ethnic population percentages, etc. ad infinitum, but I decided to stop here because this is more than enough for us to try to take in.

Is it all … dark? Well, I don’t think so.

If we’re not “dying on schedule” (meaning, in line with what Medicare and Social Security might prefer), that suggests that we have a lot of life ahead. It’s a gift.

What do we do?

What do we choose to do with that gift?

And it tells us that the pictures of aging and retirement have changed pretty dramatically from those that most of us grew up with.

We can plan, we can look ahead and we can aim our lives in directions that suggest reasonable comfort, reasonable contentment and a sense of purpose.

Or, we can do absolutely nothing and hope for the best … which would make sense, because hoping for the worst would be stupid.

I believe in hope.

I also believe in doing everything I can to make life as joyous as possible which, for me, defines “faith.”

Aging is not an affliction — it’s an achievement.


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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