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The Value of the Experienced Class

Older adults enhance where we live through their skills and life lessons, influence and involvement

This article is a reprint of the introduction to the 2018 edition of Where We Live: Communities for People of All Ages, by Nancy LeaMond, executive vice president, AARP Community, State and National Affairs, edited by Melissa Stanton, a senior advisor for AARP Livable Communities.

Front and back covers of the 2018 edition of Where We Live

The front and back covers of the third installment in the 'Where We Live' series.

Welcome to the third edition in the AARP Where We Live series. Over the past three years, we’ve shared hundreds of ideas that are making communities across the country great places to live for people of all ages — what we call “livable communities.”

AARP is proud to put a spotlight on what this livability revolution looks like on the ground, from city and countywide initiatives to small changes that make a big impact. Our goal for these publications has been twofold.

First, we want to spread the word about America’s changing demographics, what that means for the places we call home, and how the things that make communities better for older adults are the same things we all want and need, no matter our age.

On January 1, 2011, the baby boom generation began turning 65, and today the entire boomer cohort — nearly 75 million strong — is over age 50.

By 2050, 1 in 5 Americans will be age 65 or older. This trend will be felt most at the local level.

Major metropolitan areas across the United States — think Seattle, Las Vegas, Denver, Dallas, Nashville, Minneapolis and Orlando — are poised to see their 65-and-over population more than double by 2030 compared with 2010.

Small towns and rural counties, already disproportionately older than other parts of the country, will get even more so. All of these communities need to be thinking about how to help older residents stay independent as they age.

Fortunately, the structures and services that support older residents also help their children and grandchildren thrive: transportation options; safe, affordable places to live; a community commitment to health and wellness; opportunities to stay engaged and productive.

Sidewalks and curb cuts are a simple and clear example. Whether you’re walking or in a wheelchair, pushing a stroller or riding a bike, these kinds of infrastructure improvements help people stay active and get where they want and need to go. That’s what building communities for people of all ages is about.

Our second goal is to make it a little easier to take action in your community. Some of the best ideas borrow from and build on what has been tried and tested someplace else. Learning what others are doing could be just the spark needed to make a difference where you live.

The Impact of the Experienced Class

A new component in this edition of Where We Live is a focus on what we are calling the Experienced Class — people who enhance communities through their skills and life lessons, influence and involvement. As the public dialogue focuses a lot on the needs of older adults, we don’t give nearly enough attention to everything older adults contribute to their communities. To be sure, an aging society presents challenges in terms of providing vital services and supports, but there is also a lot of opportunity waiting to be tapped.

They’re an Economic Force

As consumers, older adults are a hot commodity. The over-50 crowd controls nearly 80 percent of U.S. net worth, and corporate America has taken notice. There are health clubs, online dating sites, and a host of other products and services that cater to older adults.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in venture capital are flowing to companies creating new tools and offerings for older adults.

They’re in the Workforce

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2024, people in the 65-to-74 and 75-plus age groups will represent the fastest growing segments in the U.S. labor market. The Kauffman Foundation reports that people in their 50s and 60s start businesses at nearly twice the rate of those in their 20s — and they do so for many reasons.

On the plus side, today’s older Americans are healthier, better educated, and living longer than prior generations. Many like their jobs and don’t see a need to leave the workforce as early as their parents and grandparents did. Instead, they see work as contributing to their wellbeing: “being active” and “keeping my brain alert” are the second and third most common reasons why people plan to work past age 65.

To be sure, this isn’t a 100 percent good news story. The top response for why people plan to stay in the workforce beyond age 65 is to generate income, and about 4 in 10 current retirees who have worked for pay after retirement did so to make ends meet.

Whatever the reason for staying on the job, experienced workers have a lot to offer ... knowledge, professionalism and a strong work ethic that reduces employee turnover, to name a few.

They’re Civically Engaged

People age 50 and over are involved in their communities and with causes that are important to them. Three in four of them have volunteered in the past year. Their top motivations were giving back, making a difference for their communities and helping people in need. Such volunteerism can pay enormous dividends and is an untapped resource in many communities.

The civic engagement of older Americans extends to the ballot box. They are the largest voting bloc by age. In 2016, voters age 50 and over made up 56 percent of the electorate. Voters age 45 and over have made up more than 60 percent of the voting population in every midterm congressional election since 2006.

Older voters are more informed and more likely to vote early than other age groups. It’s not an overstatement to say that older adults often decide local elections. In fact, residents age 65 and over are 15 times more likely to vote in local elections than voters age 18 to 34.

Spotlighting the Experienced Class

In addition to highlighting projects and programs that are making a difference by building housing for all ages; providing more ways to get around; supporting health and wellness; inspiring community engagement; and creating thriving, productive communities (all of these are chapters), this edition of Where We Live shines a spotlight on the contributions of the Experienced Class.

You will find several “Experience Matters” profiles that tell these stories. There are great examples of how older adults are volunteering their time and sharing their skills, whether it’s a neighbor teaching teenagers to sew at a Boys & Girls Club or a retiree who has recruited her peers to volunteer in their community.

Other stories highlight how ventures started by or focusing on older adults are solving community problems. There’s a start-up that pairs young adults looking for housing with older homeowners who have a room to spare. A nonprofit is providing assistive door-to-door transportation services and a radio station started by 60-somethings is bringing music, culture and local news to a small rural town.

Take Action

The examples in Where We Live come from many sources. Some were shared by mayors and other community leaders, some were discovered by AARP staff and volunteers, some are about projects funded through the AARP Community Challenge quick-action grant program, and others were submitted by community members taking pride in where they live.

Our hope is that you’ll read this edition of Where We Live and take action by:

Page published June 2018

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