Newsmakers, January 28, 2016

Air Date:
Heard On Newsmakers

The Demographics of Aging-

The aging of Americans is nothing really new. Since 1900 when the life expectancy was 49, America has been aging thanks to public health advancements like vaccines, a healthier diet and many other lifestyle changes that have pushed the life expectancy to almost 80.

But in the next 25 years, America will age like it never has before as the baby boomer generation hits what has typically been considered the senior years.

The trend is national, but for largely rural states like Wisconsin and Minnesota the problem is amplified by issues like young people moving to other states, and the fact that child-bearing adults left behind are having fewer children.

Right now in Wisconsin, one of every six adults is over the age of 65, but in 25 years, those 65 and older are expected to grow by 72 percent, meaning one in four residents will be considered to be seniors.

Minnesota state Demographer Susan Brower said Minnesota and Wisconsin find themselves in very similar circumstances.

“We tend to lose more people to other states than we gain from other states,” Brower said. “In Minnesota, we tend to make up for that with international immigration, but when you have that loss of the younger generation it really serves to age your population more than it otherwise would age. Young people are typically the one’s who move and when they move, it’s kind of a double-whammy because they move out-of-state, they find new homes, and they’ll have children elsewhere.”

The aging of Americans has largely been explained from a negative point of view, hand-wringing about the impact the growing population will have on the health care system, workforce, and of course, do these people have enough retirement savings to live all these extra years.

But Carrie Molke, who is director of the Wisconsin Bureau of Aging and Disability prefers to see the possibilities that aging of Wisconsin residents has to offer.

“I think there’s a great opportunity with this growing demographic for this generation to really change what it means to grow old and challenge some of our stereotypes and images of older adults,” said Molke. “The population is living longer, but it’s also healthier and more active and engaged than ever before and this really presents opportunities for both individuals to maintain a high quality of life well into old age and also opportunities for our communities as a whole to benefit in unique and new ways.”

Everything from having a new group of volunteers, to reimaging the current workforce.

Both Brower and Molke said a lot of groups in both states are working hard to envision what an aging population will need in the future, but there are still many needs that are likely unexpected.

by John Davis

Episode Credits

  • Hope Kirwan Host
  • John Davis Producer
  • Carrie Molke Guest
  • Susan Brower Guest