Regions and the Aging of America


According to the Population Reference Bureau,[1] the number and characteristics of America’s older residents is shifting dramatically. Here are some basic facts:

  • The number of older Americans (those age 60 and older) will double from 46 million to more than 98 million by 2060;
  • Older Americans by mid-century will make up nearly one-quarter of the population;
  • The number of older Americans is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse;
  • Older adults are working longer. By 2022 27 percent of older men and 20 percent of older women are expected to continue to be working beyond the age of 65; and
  • The rural Midwest is becoming disproportionately older as young people move elsewhere.

And while many of the changes are positive – education levels are increasing; life expectancy is increasing; the gender gap in life expectancy is narrowing; and the poverty rate has dropped sharply – many of the changes are negative and are of concern:

  • Obesity rates are increasing substantially among older adults;
  • Economic disparities across different subgroups are becoming very dramatic with more than twice the number of older Americans of color living in poverty than non-Hispanic whites;
  • Divorce is on the upswing and more than 25 percent of older Americans live alone;
  • The need for nursing homes is increasing as more and more older Americans require long-term care;
  • Diseases associated with older adults – Alzheimer’s and dementia – are rising; and
  • Social Security and Medicare expenditures are rapidly increasing.

Federal, state, and local governments need to better plan for an aging America. Older Americans will be both more dependent and independent, healthier but in need of more long-term care, and capable of aging in place but desiring new kinds of multi-generational and livable communities. These needs are growing and will require greater resources each year. 

What is also becoming increasingly clear is that local solutions will need to become more regional in focus as planning for an older America becomes less about specific cities or counties and more about the regions in which older Americans live.

For this reason, regions throughout the United States have become active partners in the development of plans and the implementation of solutions that address an aging population. Many now function not only as the regional planning entity, but as the Area Agency on Aging (AAA) and are direct service providers and grantors. While others may not be the AAA, they are very involved in the planning and development of programs that create more livable, diverse, and comfortable communities for older adults.

Here are just a few examples of regional councils that also serve as the AAA and the work they are doing to address the needs of their older residents.

  • The Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) has developed programs specifically designed to address the needs of elder refugees and has implemented accountable health communities throughout the region. 
  • The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) has developed a regional strategic plan entitled Live Beyond Expectations that is designed to address the changing demographics of the Atlanta region in a way that delivers more supports and provides greater impacts, with fewer resources.

Check back with Regions Lead in the upcoming months for additional discussions about older Americans and reauthorization of the Older Americans Act (OAA), the federal government’s principal funding stream for local services to older Americans.