North Carolina has transformed from the Pepsi Generation to the Pepto population. In 1950, the median age in our state was 26.5 years. By 1981, it was almost 30 and the N.C. Division of Aging and Adult Services reports it as 36.9 years in 2009. In 60 of our 100 counties there are more people over 60 than under 17 years of age, expected to increase to 90 counties by 2025. The real explosion will be in those over 85 years old.
Baby Boomers are turning gray and living longer than any generation to date. Many are moving to our state for the climate, the scenery and lower taxes. Just as they have done in every decade since their birth these boomers promise to change just about every facet of life as we know it.
Statistics show many in this group haven't saved much for retirement and will be forced to work beyond the traditional retirement age, often opting for part-time work with flexible hours. Their children have left home so they won't demand public schools, instead wanting more parks and age-appropriate recreation. Housing is certain to change. 82 percent over 65 own their homes, but expect them to downsize, changing the construction and housing market as they reduce housing and maintenance costs. Personal service providers will be in high demand. Boomers and beyond will have more unscheduled time and will seek opportunities to learn, to belong and find friendship. Churches and organizations that provide enrichment and community will have great opportunities for nurturing this group, theatres and lecture series will find eager audiences and learning institutions could easily capitalize on the renewed energy from those wanting lifelong learning.
Shopping habits will change dramatically. Older consumers won't buy as many new cars, new appliances and furniture as when they were younger. Clothing purchases will be less frequent, less stylish and likely less expensive. They will likely eat out more frequently but restaurants will need to adapt to less spicy, smaller portions and earlier serving hours.
While today's 60 and above adult is much healthier than previous generations they are less likely to have family living nearby, growing more dependent on others. The poverty rate increases significantly as people age, with women are more likely than men to live in poverty. Because many live on fixed incomes Medicaid, Medicare and services such as home-delivered meals will become increasingly important. Here is where there might be great potential conflict.
Elected officials in North Carolina are demanding more predictable costs to budget for public health services like Medicaid. Our legislature cut Home and Community Care Block Grant funding by just shy of a million dollars last July, even as the waiting list for those services is swelling. Growing numbers in this age group means demands will only increase.
But the trend most likely to resonate throughout our state is that this 60-plus age group votes in larger percentages than any other. Despite the growing numbers with dementia this group follows the news and they will clearly remember how officials vote on issues about which they care. Elected officials who are not responsive to older adults will learn first-hand about gray power, replaced by more silver haired, slightly wrinkled, public servants who are.
Publisher's note: Tom Campbell is former assistant North Carolina State Treasurer and is creator/host of NC SPIN
, a weekly statewide television discussion of NC issues airing Sundays at 11:00 am on WITN-TV
. Contact Tom at NC Spin.