COLUMBUS — By 2030, the U.S. Census Bureau predicts, people over age 65 will outnumber children under age 18 for the first time in the nation’s history.
It’s already happening in Ohio.
According to census population estimates released last week, 13 of Ohio’s 88 counties already had more people of retirement age in 2018 than they had children. One year earlier, in 2017, it was nine counties. In 2010, only Noble County in southeast Ohio had experienced what some call “the flip.”
The percentage of people over 65 grew in every Ohio county between 2010 and 2018, according to the census estimates.
It’s no surprise to those who work with older adults that populations of people 65 or older continue to grow throughout Ohio and the nation. Baby boomers are turning 65, and birthrates now are relatively low.
"We are acutely aware of the situation and now we're trying to figure out what to do," said Gary Cook, president and CEO of Direction Home Akron Canton Area Aging & Disabilities. "We need to get people to think ahead and plan for their long-term care and just their aging needs."
One of the biggest problems is that many people — especially those who are near poverty or have moderate income — mistakenly believe that Medicare will handle their long-term care needs. But that isn't the case, Cook said.
Resources exist for the very poor and frail, but not those near poverty, he said.
Several local agencies, including Direction Home, launched the website www.gettingwiser.org to educate the aging population about preparing for their later years, covering topics such as health care, housing, transportation, volunteering and money management.
Akron also launched an effort in May to be declared an "age-friendly" community.
At 41 years, Summit County's median age in 2018 was above the state's median age of 39.4 years — just 14 other states are older — and the U.S. median age of 38.2 years, according to the census estimates.
"Summit County and our region are particularly rich in supportive services and human services and social services, but as any one of them would tell you, the resources won't be adequate to take care of the need in the future," Cook said. "The first thing we are looking at it is coordination and efficiency. We need to get the most we can out of what we have.
"Frankly, you can only get so efficient," he added. "You can only educate so much. You can only collaborate so much. At some point, you need more resources. That's the big $64,000 question. Where are we going to get the resources that are needed to actually provide services to what we think is the most vulnerable part of the population, which is the near poverty group? We don't have answers to that."
Other Ohio areas
In Noble County, where the median age is 53.1, the situation is more dire.
“We have some of the largest percentage-of-senior-population counties in the state,” said Jennifer Westfall, aging and disability director for the Buckeye Hills Regional Council, which handles the duties of an agency on aging for eight southeast Ohio counties, including Noble.
“There’s a lack of resources because it is low-population and it’s rural,” she said of Noble County. “There is not a hospital in the county. There is no emergency facility in the county. Health care access is a struggle.”
So many young people have left to find jobs elsewhere that it’s hard to find home health aides. Providers struggle to hire because they can’t offer a living wage on the reimbursements they receive, she said.
“We do have to consider whether as a state we’re doing enough,” Westfall said. “Are we focusing enough when we look at budgets and legislation? There’s always a discussion of cutting Medicaid. Medicaid pays a large portion of our senior care. When you cut Medicaid or you cut food stamps, you are cutting services to seniors.”
The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission predicted that central Ohio’s 65 or over population would double by 2050, said Katie White, who helped start the village movement there with MORPC and now directs Age-Friendly Communities of Columbus and Franklin County from Ohio State University’s College of Social Work.
“Our sort of take on the doubling of the 65-plus population is framing it as an opportunity to engage our elders,” White said.
She wants to get people thinking as they hit 50 what they’ll do to take care of themselves, others in their age group and the community as grow they older. That could mean planning for their own medical needs, committing to helping a neighbor or suggesting longer walk lights at intersections to help an aging community get around.
“Some people talk about a ‘silver tsunami,’ and it’s offensive,” she said. “I like to think of it as a silver reservoir, a resource.”
Contact Rick Armon at firstname.lastname@example.org and Doug Caruso at email@example.com.