Older Americans Month 2019: Connect, Create, Contribute

Each year, more older adults are making a positive impact across America. As volunteers, employees, employers, educators, mentors, advocates, and more, they offer insight and experience that benefit the entire community. That’s why Older Americans Month (OAM) has been recognizing the contributions of this growing population for 56 years.

Led by the Administration for Community Living (ACL) each May, OAM provides resources to help older Americans stay healthy and independent, and resources to help communities support and celebrate their diversity.

This year’s OAM theme, Connect, Create, Contribute, encourages older adults and their communities to:

  • Connect with friends, family, and local services and resources.
  • Create through activities that promote learning, health, and personal enrichment.
  • Contribute time, talent, and life experience to benefit others.

Along with regions all around the nation, NARC will celebrate OAM by promoting ways that community members of all ages can take part in helping the country thrive. Below are three great examples from our membership regarding how their current work highlights this year’s OAM theme:

Connect: The Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments Area Agency on Aging (AAA) publishes an annual Senior Information and Assistance Directory, a resource guide connecting seniors and caregivers to many services of interest available throughout the region.

Create: The Rogue Valley Council of Governments Senior and Disability Services department holds six-week Living Well workshops, helping seniors build self-management skills to better deal with diabetes and chronic pain and conditions.

Contribute: The Atlanta Regional Commission Aging and Independence Services Group (the metro region’s AAA) provides senior volunteer opportunities through its empowerline program. Through a variety of activities, senior volunteers share important health, wellness, and preventative services information with the peers in their region that seek assistance.

Join NARC this month in recognizing the important role seniors play in our communities, as well as programming that is happening across our regions to engage and support older Americans. Visit the official OAM website for ideas and inspiration, and follow ACL on Twitter and Facebook.

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.

[1] https://www.prb.org/aging-unitedstates-fact-sheet/

Implications of Southeast Michigan’s 2045 Forecast

Demographic and socio-economic trends discussed in the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments’ (SEMCOG) 2045 Regional Forecast will necessitate some lifestyle changes in the greater Detroit, Michigan region. The biggest of these trends is the aging of the population and the lack of incoming young people. These trends will create a labor shortage that can impact a regional economy.

One in four people in Southeast Michigan will be over age 65 by 2045. The same will be true in Singapore except they will reach those numbers by 2030. In Singapore, the plan for aging workers is to keep them working. They’ve launched a $2.2 billion program with many initiatives, including subsidizing retraining skills and allowing an employee beyond the retirement age of 62 to work until age 67. Accommodating an older employee involves some creative solutions, e.g., part-time or flexible hours, larger font sizes, and smaller-sized deliveries that are easier for older folks to handle.

The U.S. economy will also see some shifts as industry adapts to an older population. SEMCOG’s 2045 Forecast noted increases in health care and related industries. Another not-so-obvious increase is expected in the home remodeling industry, as baby boomers choose to “age in place.” Home renovations from this age group are expected to account for nearly one-third of all remodeling dollars by 2025, according to a report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies. I was in China recently, where an article by my former college advisor went viral. It was about how she remodeled her parents’ home to help them age in place. It dealt with a range of issues, including not only removing physical barriers to increase accessibility, but also improving line-of-sight, lighting, sound, as well as designing storage and furniture details.

Speaking of aging in place, the City of Auburn Hills, Michigan, has taken a proactive approach to this concept. With input from the community, they know that many older residents enjoy city events, parks, and plan to stay in Auburn Hills as they age. To address potential barriers, the city created an Age-Friendly 2015 Action Plan. According to Mayor Kevin McDaniel, the plan “is the start of our journey to creating a city that will be ideal for residents of all ages for years to come. It will serve as a guide as we continue to commit to improving our citizens’ and visitors’ access to our community.”

While local governments are already planning for an aging community, they are also adjusting to fewer school-age students and figuring out what to do with school buildings no longer needed. In Dearborn Heights, Michigan, Berwyn Elementary School is now Berwyn Senior Recreation Center. Built in 1958, Dearborn Heights began leasing the building from the Crestwood School District in 1979. Housing 20 classrooms, a large multipurpose room, and a kitchen, the facility is now used for classes, special events, health programs, meetings, and the Wayne County Nutrition Program. The city purchased the building from the Crestwood School District in 1997 and renamed it the Berwyn Senior Recreation Center in 2015. Similar things may happen in your community, as the U.S. senior population is forecast to grow dramatically in the next 30 years (see figure below).

U.S. Senior Population, Aged 65 and Over, 2010-2045

Source: SEMCOG 2045 Forecast, 2017.

A version of this blog originally appeared as a sidebar to a longer article in the Spring 2017 issue of Semscope, SEMCOG’s quarterly magazine. 

Interested in knowing how SEMCOG’s data impacts local governments and residents in Southeast Michigan? Then, you’ll want to read Xuan’s blog posts. Other posts by Xuan Liu.

Dr. Xuan Liu is the Research Manager for Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG). He oversees data analysis on demographics, socio-economics, land use, and transportation at SEMCOG. He is also specialized in modeling land use and transportation relations. He received his Ph.D. from University of Michigan.

The Problem with Block Grants

I know. We all like block grants. They give us the flexibility we say we need to effectively implement programs, and they come with few strings attached. Such is the case for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG); youth, adult, and dislocated programs under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA); the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG); and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to name a few.

In large part we are not wrong. All 50 states and thousands of localities need flexible funding to address local issues in ways that are not hamstrung by laws, rules, and regulations; and reflect state, region, and local needs.

What we often don’t get is the connection between block grants and funding cuts, and the connection is very strong. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), “overall funding for block grants targeted on low- and moderate-income people—including both discretionary and mandatory programs—has shrunk by 27 percent in inflation-adjusted terms and 37 percent after accounting for inflation and population growth. The Trump cuts would sharply exacerbate those declines” by eliminating four block grants entirely. The programs that the Administration would like to eliminate are the:

  • Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which helps low-income households—including many poor seniors—pay heating bills (with current funding at $3.4 billion);
  • Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), which supports housing, community facilities, economic development, and social service projects, mainly for low- and moderate-income residents ($3 billion);
  • HOME program, which helps develop and preserve affordable rental housing and repair homes of low-income homeowners ($948 million); and
  • Community Services Block Grant (CSBG), which provides anti-poverty services through local non-profit and public agencies ($714 million) and is so important to coordination between faith groups, local governments, private companies, and nonprofits in addressing the needs of the poor.

The Community Service and Employment Program (CSEP) for seniors would also be eliminated and the president’s proposal would likely cause cuts as large as 50 percent to Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act youth, adult, and dislocated worker programs. Also on the chopping block may be the Social Services Block Grant, which provides much needed funds to states and localities for adult programs and to better connect programs that are not typically configured to work together.

But why do we pay such a high price for programs that Congress and the president initially agreed upon? The answer is rather obvious. It has become the norm for Congress to call for empirical evidence that the programs they fund are actually working. But it is the very flexibility that is built into these block grants that is also their downfall. How do you scientifically evaluate CDBG when every program in every entitlement city and balance of state may develop and implement very different programs that do not produce similar outcomes and are not measureable in the same ways. You can’t. So instead of acknowledging this difficulty and looking at different methods of analysis such as case studies, Congress chips away year after year at these programs until there are insufficient resources to implement successful programs.

So, you may ask, what can I do with this information?

Here is What You Need to Know:

 President Trump’s “skinny” budget would eliminate four discretionary block grants that mainly serve low-income people;

  • These cuts would come on top of years of deteriorating funding for block grants. If these cuts are implemented, your already diminished federal resources would be further reduced, inhibiting implementation  of these very important programs;
  • What has happened and may continue to happen is an indication of the danger of block-granting social programs; and
  • Programs funded through block grants are in a catch-22 situation; the very reason they are so desirable—state and local flexibility and reduced administrative burdens—are the very reason they are likely to be cut. “Scientific evidence” of their success is difficult to develop since states use these grants in very different ways that result in very different outcomes.
And This is What You Need to Do:
  • Monitor the legislative updates that NARC, NACo, and NLC issue, and act on them. Your involvement in our advocacy efforts is the only way we can succeed.
  • Reach out to your senators and representatives to educate them about these programs and how important they are for your region;
  • Document in very specific terms what would happen to your region if these cuts went through. For example, how many people would not be able to heat their homes if LIHEAP were terminated; how many people would be turned away from job training assistance if a 50 percent budget cut went through; or how many significant projects within your region would have to shut down because these CDBG funds would not be available;
  • Invite them to see first-hand the results of these programs. Make them a part of any formal ceremonies such as ribbon cuttings or awards ceremonies, regardless of the magnitude of the project;
  • Meet with them over the upcoming Passover/ Easter recess, which runs from April 10 through 21, to personally share with them your successes stories and educate them about the funding sources you rely on; and
  • Do not allow them to pit one program against another by asking you, “If we fund CDBG, which programs should we cut so that we end up with the same budget reduction as is proposed in the president’s budget.”

The author would like to thank the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Washington Post for much of the data and information that appears in this blog.

America’s Seniors: How Many There Are, Who They Are, and Why Budget Cuts Would Harm Them

Data recently released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Community Living (ACL) documents the continued increase in the number of older Americans.

As of today, about one in every seven persons, or nearly 15 percent of the population, is an older American.


  • Those aged 65 and older increased by nearly ten million (a 30 percent increase) in the last decade—from 36.6 million in 2005 to 47.8 million in 2015;
  • Those aged 85 and over are projected to triple from 6.3 million in 2015 to 14.6 million in 2040;
  • Racial and ethnic minority populations have increased from 6.7 million in 2005 (18% of older adults) to 10.6 million in 2015 (22% of older adults);
  • The number of Americans aged 45-64 who will reach 65 over the next two decades has increased by 15 percent; and
  • The average life expectancy for those reaching 65 has increased by nearly 20 years.


  • Older women outnumber older men by 5.5 million;
  • Twenty-two percent of persons 65 and older are members of racial or ethnic minority populations;
  • Older men are much more likely to be married than older women—70% of men vs. 45% of women;
  • One-third of older women are widows;
  • Almost half of women aged 75 or more live alone;
  • Nearly 30 percent (13.6 million) of non-institutionalized older persons live alone;
  • Nearly 77,000 persons aged 100 or more are alive today;
  • Women are more likely to be poorer than men—the median income of older persons in 2015 was $31,372 for males and $18,250 for females; and
  • Households with families headed by persons aged 65 or more reported a median income of $57,360 in 2015.

To no surprise:

  • The major source of income as reported by older persons in 2014 was Social Security (reported by 84% of older persons);
  • Income from assets was the second largest source of income (reported by 62%), followed by earnings (reported by 29%), private pensions (reported by 37%), and government employee pensions (reported by 16%);
  • Social Security constituted 90% or more of the income received by 33% of beneficiaries in 2014; and
  • Over 4.2 million older adults (8.8%) were below the poverty level in 2015.

With the aging of America comes a greater demand for services, including: health-related services for persons with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, senior daycare programs, assistance with independent living, and nutrition assistance. The need for health-related research especially around Alzheimer’s disease and dementia has also increased. The president’s first federal budget, unfortunately, confirms what had been expected: it would propose significant cuts in non-defense discretionary programs including those within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Under the president’s budget, HHS would see more than a 16 percent cut in funding from last year. A comparable cut in funding for programs under the Older Americans Act should be expected. In addition, programs like the Social Services Block Grant, the Community Services Block Grant, the Senior Community Service Employment Program, and the National Institutes of Health’s research on dementia and Alzheimer’s disease would be also be cut or eliminated.  If Congress adopts the president’s budget, and that is a big if given the criticisms that emerged from both sides of the aisle, these cuts will have a disastrous impact on millions of seniors, many of whom are already struggling due to limited incomes and inadequate access to services.

For more information on America’s seniors visit: http://www.aoa.acl.gov/Aging_Statistics/Profile/index.aspx. For more specific information on the president’s budget proposal watch for future blogs, including one this week that will explore some of the specific cuts proposed.