Senior couple holding hands

An elderly couple holding hands while sitting on couch.

It’s no secret that our population is aging.

By 2030, all baby boomers will have turned 65 years old, with an estimated 10,000 people reaching that age each day. The number of 65-plus people in the U.S. also will outnumber children, according to a 2018 U.S. Census Bureau projection.

That observation should shift our focus on “who is aging?” to incorporate the question of “who is working?”

July population projections from the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia show that by 2030, nearly 1 in 5 people in the commonwealth of Virginia will be age 65 or older. Visualizations from the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP), which draw upon the Weldon Cooper Center data, show some areas in the Richmond region already are close to that threshold.

Look at the change predicted over the next decade:

2020 — Hanover (18.13%), Henrico (16.04%), Chesterfield (15.63%) and Richmond (11.33%)

2030 — Hanover (23%), Henrico (18.72%), Chesterfield (18.27%) and Richmond (12.9%)

But forget the raw count of older Virginians. There’s another statistic involved in aging well and it centers on young people. It’s called the dependency ratio — a measure of the elderly (ages 65 and up) to working (ages 15 to 64) population.

According to the Weldon Cooper Center, in Virginia, the figure was 20% in 2010, but could balloon to 32% by 2030. Several factors are behind the change, from people living longer, to lower birth rates.

In 2013, Congress assembled a bipartisan commission on long-term care to study the issue and propose policy recommendations. A 2014 article in the journal, “Public Policy and Aging Report,” summarized three issue buckets: “responsive” and “integrated” service delivery, “sustainable” financing with a mix of public and private support and a “competent, adequately-sized workforce capable of providing high-quality, person-and-family-centered services.”

“Family caregivers sacrifice other family and work responsibilities and bear a financial and emotional burden that can be overwhelming,” the full commission report said. “Paid services and supports are expensive, and when received over an extended period of time, can be financially catastrophic.”

The discussion over caring for our elders isn’t as simple as quantifying the growth of older Americans. It’s time we engage younger populations — both for ideas on how to provide care for their elders, as well as what would make home care a more attractive, sustainable career path.

Chris Gentilviso

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