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Creating Communities for All Ages in Oregon

Nancy LeaMond — AARP Executive Vice President, State and National Group — addresses the 'Governing' roundtable event in Portland

Nancy LeaMond's remarks before the Portland, Ore., Governing Roundtable event, as prepared for delivery on July 17, 2014.

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Good morning. Thank you for joining this discussion about "Creating Communities for ALL Ages." And a big thanks to Governing magazine for working with us to put this event together.

I would like to recognize AARP Board Director Doris Koo; Dr. Chad Cheriel, AARP Oregon volunteer President and member of AARP’s National Policy Council; and Elaine Freisen-Strang, an AARP state and local volunteer leader — who are with us today.

Now, I know some of you have heard of AARP — if nothing else, you know we send you a bunch of mail on the day you turn 50 ... and that’s true.

But you may NOT know is that AARP is the largest membership organization in the country, with 38 million members — including around 500,000 here in Oregon.

We have offices and teams in all 50 states.

And we have a basic, fundamental social mission — strengthening communities, and fighting for the issues that matter most to older Americans and their families. Issues like retirement and health security, transportation and housing.

Not surprisingly — given that our members are over the age of 50 — we spend a lot of time and energy looking at the world of aging. 

And there’s a lot to talk about. Because, simply put — our country is getting older.

On January 1, 1946, the first of 78 million baby boomers was born ... and on January 2011, those boomers began turning 65 — representing the most significant demographic shift in our nation’s history.

By 2030, one in four Americans will be over the age of 50 — and the 65-plus population will double to 72 million. 

Just as we’re aging in the aggregate, every state is getting older.

By 2030, Oregon’s median age will rise to nearly 40, more than one in five Oregonians will be over the age of 65, and almost two in five will be over the age of 50.

And it’s not just that we’re getting older. We’re doing it differently.

Indeed, the boomers even have a new mindset about aging – it’s called denial.

As Nora Ephron said: "There's a reason why forty, fifty, and sixty don't look the way they used to — and it's not because of feminism, or better living through exercise. It's because of hair dye."

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Now, when you look at the attendee list for today’s forum, you’ll notice that we have a cross-section of folks — leaders from state agencies, academia, cities and counties, business groups and foundations. 

And this is intentional. 

Because the aging of America will have profound implications for every corner of our nation, and for every institution. Just look at the institution of government.

Our federal government has been deeply involved in the business of aging ever since Social Security was created in 1935.

And state and local governments also play an important role — delivering and supporting long term care, enhancing public health, ensuring that our infrastructure is able to support the needs of a changing constituency, and more.

The challenge for public officials is to make the best use of increasingly limited resources at a time of rising demand — and to champion new solutions that address new challenges.

Take retirement security, for example: 642,000 workers in Oregon — nearly half your workforce — do not have access to a retirement plan.

If nothing is done, we face serious problems as people age with little or no savings.

But there are concrete steps we can take to avoid a crisis.

For example, AARP Oregon has been championing Work & Save plans, a common sense solution that makes it easier for small businesses to create retirement accounts for their employees.

Notably, these plans rely on public private partnerships, and are intended to be self-sustaining — without burdening state budgets, and without burdening employers.

We especially appreciate the efforts of Oregon State Treasurer Ted Wheeler, who is with us today — he has been our most forceful champion in this work.

With increasing demand and limited resources, we can expect added pressure on the social sector — nonprofits and charities alike — to help fill the gap.

Of course, nonprofits face the same squeeze as government, and there is pressure on social change groups to find new efficiencies and economies of scale.

That said, there’s a silver lining ... no pun intended ... because the aging of America has given us an enormous reservoir of volunteer talent.

In 2013, 20 million baby boomers — more than any other age group — dedicated their experience, skills and passion to volunteerism. 

In Oregon, roughly one-third of your residents over the age of 55 volunteer in some capacity.

Indeed, AARP has several thousand volunteers in Oregon who support our programs — keeping drivers safe, mentoring children through AARP Experience Corps, helping people manage their money and file their taxes, and more.

In order to take advantage of this incredible talent, nonprofits must continue to evolve the way we attract, train and retain volunteers.

As the nonprofit community looks at boomers and sees potential volunteers, businesses and marketers have finally begun to see potential customers.

In 2010, disposable income for Americans 50-plus was over $3 trillion. And the 50-plus crowd controls almost 80 percent of US aggregate net worth.

Historically, businesses and marketers have targeted the younger in lieu of the older. Nielson estimates that less than 5 percent of advertising dollars are geared toward people 35-64.

But savvy businesses are starting to give older consumers the attention they deserve.

To accommodate a new kind of customer, companies are overhauling products and services, adjusting their marketing and redesigning store layouts.

Retailers like Walgreens and CVS have lowered shelves for easier access — while Trader Joe's is offering more single and double servings, to accommodate empty nesters who have downsized.

Meanwhile, we’ve seen the rapid rise of new products and services

Brain fitness products generated $265 million in 2009, and are projected to reach $1 billion by 2015.

And by 2020, the aging-in-place technologies industry is projected to grow to $20 billion.

Of course, businesses will have to adapt not just to market forces, but also to the changing nature of their workforce – and their role as employer.

The importance of talent recruitment, management and development cuts across major institutions. 

For the first time in modern history, the workplace spans four generations – with 20 year olds working side-by-side with 70 year olds.

Boomers make up about one-third of the U.S. workforce, and employers must develop new policies and practices to meet the changing wants and needs of older, highly educated, and capable workforce.

You have employers right here in your back yard that are ahead of the curve.

New Seasons Market is very deliberate about attracting and hiring an intergenerational workforce.

Oregon Health Sciences University was an inaugural winner of AARP’s Best Employer Award, for its management practices and policies that support an age-diverse employee base.

And while Portlandia has made the city famous for a place where “young people go to retire,” a recent PSU study found that it’s actually a place where older people continue to work, and where they go to seek out encore careers.

Finally, I want to mention one more institution that spans public and private, for-profit and nonprofit — the BUILT environment.

Just as people age in place, communities are also — by and large — aging in place.

Most Americans, including most Oregonians, want to stay in their communities as they get older.

Unlike Jerry Seinfeld’s parents, who famously moved to Florida, today's 50-plus are staying put — 83 percent of boomers expect to stay in the very same house.

Meanwhile, cities and communities will be challenged with responding to the wants and needs of an age-diverse constituency.

And while those wants may vary, there are things that ALL of us look for in a community, regardless of age.

  • We want to live in places that are safe and affordable
  • To be connected to family and friends
  • To get around easily
  • To be part of a community and economy that enables opportunity

Unfortunately, when we partnered with Governing to survey local leaders across the country, only 16 percent said their communities were very, or extremely, prepared for the next 25 years. 

Despite the fact that communities know they need to change, many are doing little or nothing about it.

People lack the access and proximity to the services they want and need as they get older, their homes are not conducive to aging in place, and they don’t have accessible transit and transportation options.

But, that’s not to say that the majority of community leaders do not see the value in an age-friendly environment. In fact, 56 percent indicated that it was important to create a community for all ages.

Based on our experience across the country, we know that communities and different sectors are in varying stages when it comes to preparedness.

The good news is that we’ve seen progress. Indeed, there are positive things happening right here in Portland.

Portland was the first US city to join the World Health Organization’s Network of age-friendly communities.

The Portland City Council is implementing an action plan to address zoning, housing and pedestrian safety.

Your public transit system, Trimet, has adjusted its routing to make transit more accessible to people with mobility challenges.

And some builders in Portland and Medford are applying universal design principles as they construct new homes — so people can age in place, with independence.

Indeed, we applaud groups like Cedar Sinai, which recently converted several downtown Portland buildings into quality affordable housing for seniors and adults with disabilities.

SO, these are just five sectors — but we know that EVERY part of our country and our economy will be affected by, and play a role in, the aging of America. 

From design to healthcare to education ... no corner of society will go untouched.

At the same time that we look at major institutions, we can’t lose sight of the fact that some of the most interesting things are happening from the ground up.

Look at what’s happened with Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities — including Village Northwest, here in Portland — where neighbors are working with neighbors to ensure their community has the services to help them age in place.

We’re seeing more and more cohabitation arrangements, like the Golden Girls.

We’ve even seen a revival of interest in certain places for mobile homes as a preferred housing option for older adults. 

And it’s worth pointing out that a lot of the innovation we’re seeing involves generations working side-by-side with other generations. 

A great example is Bridge Meadows, a community in your Portsmouth neighborhood designed to bring together three generations to support families adopting children from foster care. 

At the same time, Bridge Meadows gives its elderly residents a sense of community and purpose.

Just as states and communities are laboratories for innovation, so too are the citizens  who band together to bring about change.

So yes, we’ve seen progress. But we know there is much more to be done.

AARP is committed to working in the Portland metro area, and across the state, to make Oregon a more livable place for people of all ages.

I encourage you all to visit AARP’s "Great Places for all Ages" website — aarp.org/livable — where you will find best practices, case studies and guidance.

And we want to hear from YOU — which is why we’re here today — to discuss options, best practices and strategies.

We are at the epicenter of a demographic transformation — a very special moment in time. 

We know that EVERY part of our country and our economy, and every major institution and sector, will play a role in the aging of America. 

And when future historians look back on the first half of the 21st century, they will judge today’s leaders on how we responded to the challenges, and seized the advantages, of our aging country ... for the benefit of today's generations, and for generations to come.

Thank you so much


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