American communities are failing to adequately expand social programs in preparation for the huge wave of boomers who are beginning to hit their senior years, according to a report released Thursday.
By 2030, more than 70 million Americans — nearly one in five — will be 65 and older. But instead of upgrading senior services, many states and municipalities are battling just to preserve what they have, because of the recession's lingering impact, the report concluded.
"These findings show that the country still has a tremendous amount of work to do in a very short amount of time to address America's rapidly rising aging population," Sandy Markwood, chief executive officer of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, said in a statement. The association produced the study, titled "The Maturing of America: Communities Moving Forward for an Aging Population."
Markwood said that governments had done an admirable job in maintaining the status quo in the face of current economic conditions. But "given the dramatic aging demographics, the status quo is not good enough."
'A major wake-up call'
"These findings should be a major wake-up call for local governments and should motivate them to take immediate actions that will address the challenge and opportunities at hand," Markwood said.
For the study, the association surveyed in 2010 more than 1,400 local governments across the nation. The communities were queried about disaster preparation, property tax relief, health care services, housing, transportation, social services, elder abuse prevention, workforce development, zoning and civic engagement. The results were compared with a similar survey done in 2005.
Funding shortages, transportation (including inadequate transportation options) and housing (including access to affordable and suitable housing) were the biggest challenges cited by local officials in meeting the needs of older adults.
In the 2005 survey, housing, financial programs and health care services were identified as the biggest obstacles.
Predictably, communities with larger populations were more likely to provide a greater variety of elder services than those in rural areas, the survey said.
Some progress reported
On the bright side, many localities reported progress since 2005 in certain areas. Among them:
- More than half (59 percent) of communities surveyed offer specialized training for public safety and emergency staff in dealing with older adults in natural and man-made disasters, up from 24 percent in 2005.
- The number of localities that provide in-home support services for older adults grew from 71 percent in 2005 to 77 percent in 2010.
- About half (52 percent) of local governments surveyed offer educational enrichment programs for older adults, including courses that refresh workforce skills, up from 45 percent in 2005.
But as communities with budget shortfalls continue to feel the pain of the recession, so do many of their residents. The number of local governments offering property tax relief for older adults on limited incomes dropped to 54 percent last year, down from 72 percent in 2005.
Programs to educate older adults about financial fraud and predatory lending also declined; 65 percent of communities offer them, down from 69 percent five years ago.
Carole Fleck is a senior editor at the AARP Bulletin.