Monday, May 4, 2009

Growing old; new realities

A new study by Qian Cai in The Virginia News Letter, "Virginia's Diverse and Growing Older Population," examines the changing demographics and resulting societal, economic, and public policy implications. Because of advances over mortality and a lower fertility rate, persons over 65 will double to 1.8 million and become about 19% (up from 12% today) of the state's population over the next two decades.
Obviously, federal programs such as Social Security and Medicare will be impacted. So too, will state and local policies concerning seniors including suitable housing, public transportation, recreation, availability of health care services. Family structures may change, for example baby boomers had fewer children and often had them in their 20s and 30s meaning there are fewer children to take care of aging parents and those children will be more likely to still be raising and educating their own children.
While the greatest number of seniors will be found in urban communities like NOVA, Hampton Roads, and the Richmond metro area, some rural areas will have a greater percentage of seniors. The Northern Neck, Middle Peninsula, Highland County, and Covington are among the localities expected to have a high percentage of older residents. Consider the consequences for availability of medical care and transportation in those areas. Another finding - poverty rates are higher among rural seniors.
There is much more to be found in this comprehensive report. As we elect a new Governor and House of Delegates, it is critical that the issues that will arise because of the Commonwealth's changing demographics be part of the discussion today. Voters and candidates will be wise to think and plan long-term if our seniors of today and tomorrow are to enjoy a life of dignity. Younger voters, you are in this too - you will be the taxpayers who will pay for it.
The Virginia News Letter is a publication of the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia.

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