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Aging America – Get Ready for the Boomers

We’ve all heard the statistics about the aging “Baby Boomers”. By 2030 more than 70 million Americans are expected to be 65.

Not only will there be more older adults for the foreseeable future, but this cohort will have different expectations and demands.

“Boomers” have been a force for change at each milestone decade and we can expect that their entry into senior-hood will be no different.

Unlike their parents, Boomers are typically, more interested in living in intergenerational communities and less interested in senior communities.  Large majorities articulate the desire to “age in place” - to remain in their community as they age, without having to move to get care and/or housing.

As the Boomers “age in place”, they will need and expect that buildings, parks and streets are accessible; that sidewalks are walkable, streets are bike friendly, and wheelchairs and strollers are accommodated. They will assume that their communities will provide the health and social services they need. They are one of the most rapidly growing age groups, and while they remain the group most likely to vote, surveys show that over half of local officials are unaware of aging data about their community.

A survey of local governments conducted by ICMA, in partnership with the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a) and several other national associations reveals much work to be done to create sustainable communities for all ages as America’s elderly population continues to expand.

The Maturing of America: Communities Moving Forward for an Aging Population (Maturing of America II) report identified financial and funding issues as the top challenge facing communities in meeting the needs of, or planning for, older adults. The pressures experienced by local governments result from a combination of factors: demographic changes, increased demands for service, increased  cost of health care, social services, pensions and education, and shrinking revenue bases (federal, state and local).  The survey found most communities not prepared to meet the needs of their aging citizens, lacked policies and initiatives and, struggle to maintain status quo service delivery levels.

What do these changes mean for local governments with already constrained resources? Local government managers will need to find no cost/low cost responses and solutions to change service paradigms and to expand organizational capacity.  Some basics include:

  • implement integrated planning models…financial and physical planning through the lens of the entire community including the needs and assets of all ages and interests.
  • find, partner and collaborate with a variety or agencies and nonprofits… work more intensively with regional councils, municipal leagues, non-profits, faith-communities and local foundations.
  • review policies and procedures that may be barriers to action and respond…  changing policies and business practice can frequently be done with no financial investment.
  • bring a broad group of departments and experts together… an age-friendly community cannot be accomplished by one group, department or agency; for instance, aging experts and engineers must work together to find solutions.
  • include older volunteers…develop meaningful civic engagement and volunteer opportunities that engage older adults in addressing local opportunities and challenges.

Fortunately, ICMA has been working to develop resources to help you meet  these challenges.  Over the last several months we prepared and presented technical assistance workshops called Neighborhood Planning for Healthy Aging under contract to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Sustainability. This spring we worked with JustPartners Inc. providing a needs assessment and strategic plan for Frederick County, MD.  We have also engaged several other groups in developing methods to assist our members.

The ICMA 2013 Conference in Boston will include 2 sessions that will provide additional information and tips and specifically address the basics above. On Tuesday, September 24th, at 12:45 PM, I’ll lead a round table discussion “Here Come the Boomers”.  Join us to discuss the policies, programs, and partnerships in your community and learn about those in other communities.

Immediately following the roundtable at 3:00 PM there will be an educational session: Engaging the Aging—Communities that Work for All Ages. The session will focus on what local government managers can do to prepare for and meet the needs of the growing Boomer demographic given current resource constraints.  Expect to take away tips and tactics that the speakers have seen work. 

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