Early Census Numbers Show Interesting Wrinkles In Aging America

by

David Albrecht, Director, International Programs & Business Research

June 29, 2011

As Boomers move toward retirement (three years ago I would have written “retire”, but that was then), change moves with them. Now, with early 2010 Census numbers in, Brookings has taken a look at what those numbers are beginning to show.

  • Between 2000 and 2010, the number of Americans 45 years of age and older grew 18 times faster than the number of Americans under 45.
  • The numbers of seniors – those 65 and older – rose most rapidly in Sun Belt states, but the number of “pre-seniors” (aged 55-64) is rising rapidly in all regions.  Ironically, this growth is particularly strong in hip young university towns like Austin, Madison & Raleigh.
  • “Aging in place” (remember this phrase, it’s going to be important) – the number of older Americans not moving south for sun and surf is substantial. Certain regions – northeastern states, the upper Midwest – are also seeing relative growth in the numbers of seniors and pre-seniors as younger residents up stakes and leave.

The repercussions of this shift are going to be complex and will be fully understood only in retrospect. But possible outcomes include:

  • Increasing financial strain in northeastern and inter-mountain western states – with more seniors aging in place, and relatively fewer younger workers to support social service systems, even enhanced voluntary and government measures may not be enough to meet an aging public’s needs.
  • Increasing division by age along geographic lines – every single one of the top ten primary cities showing strongest population growth under 45 from 2000 to 2010 is a Sunbelt city.  All but two of the primary cities showing the biggest loss of residents under 45 for the same period were Rust Belt locations; of the two exceptions, one was New Orleans.
  • Increasing potential political division along geographic lines – states and cities top-heavy with retired or soon-to-retire residents are likely to end up voting very differently than younger areas when topics like Social Security, spending and Medicare get tossed into the blender of electoral politics.

For access to summaries as well as the full report, just click here.

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