The Age Wave Is Coming

The nation’s population is aging, as everyone knows. But it is aging at an uneven pace, reports a new Brookings Institution study, “The Uneven Aging and ‘Younging’ of America.” In 36 of the 100 largest metro areas the population below the age of 45 declined between 2000 and 2010. But in 29 metro areas, the under-45 population grew by 10% or more.

Even though retirees continue to migrate in large numbers to the Sunbelt, most prefer to “age in place,” meaning that they don’t move anywhere. The people most likely to move are young. As a result, the areas areas with the greatest concentration of seniors are located primarily in Florida, the Northeast and the Midwest. The areas most likely to see gains in the number of young people are in the South (including Florida) and the West.

Virginia saw fairly rapid growth in the over-45 population — in the 25% to 33% range. And it saw modest growth in the under-45 population, in the 0% to 5% range. (Click on map to see a national comparison.)

As my former colleagues at the Boomer Project like to remind us, the age wave is coming — and Virginia is ill prepared. Unless the topic is pensions or entitlements, there is zero discussion of age wave-related issues in Virginia political campaigns. Fortunately, the Older Dominion Project, a public-private consortium, is doing yeoman’s work to highlight the issues.

One of the questions asked in a recent statewide survey is whether Virginia’s transportation systems will become “age ready.” Currently, one in seven drivers is 65 or older. By 2030, the number will be one in four. As people age, their sight and hearing increasingly fail them and they process information more slowly. Safety analysts predict that by 2030, when all Boomers have turned 65, they could be responsible for 25% of all fatal crashes. What will seniors do when the keys are taken away?

About 10% of the 65-and-over population, or 90,000 Virginians, report that lack of transportation made it difficult or impossible to conduct one or more daily tasks listed to the left during the past month.

How will seniors get around? Will we have made our roads easier for seniors to navigate? Will we have built more walkable communities? Or will seniors have to depend increasingly upon neighbors, churches and social services to perform basic daily tasks?

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