Capitol Alert

California’s baby boom will become a senior boom

Dr. Dave Kanas, DDS., left, takes an x-ray image of dental patient Harry 'Buzz' Harrison at Harrison's home at an independent living facility in Roseville on Tuesday, December 16, 2014. Kanas is a mobile dentist, who travels with his portable dental tools to individual's homes, as well as skilled nursing centers. A new report says a surge in the state’s senior population will put a strain on services.
Dr. Dave Kanas, DDS., left, takes an x-ray image of dental patient Harry 'Buzz' Harrison at Harrison's home at an independent living facility in Roseville on Tuesday, December 16, 2014. Kanas is a mobile dentist, who travels with his portable dental tools to individual's homes, as well as skilled nursing centers. A new report says a surge in the state’s senior population will put a strain on services. rbenton@sacbee.com

Although its overall population growth continues to slow, California’s senior population – those 65 and older – will nearly double in the next 15 years, a new report from the Public Policy Institute of California concludes.

And that trend, PPIC says, is “clearly indicating an increased demand for health and support services.”

Moreover, it projects, “This population will also become more racially and ethnically diverse, signaling a growing need for culturally competent care – that is, care that respects the beliefs and responds to the linguistic needs of seniors from diverse backgrounds.”

Thanks to declining immigration and birth rates, California’s population growth has slowed to well under 1 percent a year, about a third of what it was 30 years ago.

The earlier growth stemmed not only from immigration but from two “baby booms” – one during the two decades that followed World War II and a second that began about 1980.

The second occurred as the earlier baby boomers and new immigrants produced as many as 600,000 babies a year. Births are now under 500,000 a year, still outnumbering deaths by a 2-1 margin.

However, as the senior population expands sharply, the overall death rate will climb, which may push overall population growth even lower, unless there’s a new surge of immigration. At some point, given current demographic trends, California could see its population start to decline.

The postwar baby boomers were a bulge in the state’s schools and colleges during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s and are a major portion of the workforce now. With the oldest of them already over 65, they will form the nucleus of California’s surge in senior population, the PPIC study projects.

“California’s over-65 population is expected to be 87 percent higher in 2030 than in 2012,” its report says, “an increase of more than four million people.”

Seniors will rise from 12 percent of the state’s population in 2012 to 19 percent by 2030, the report continues, adding, “Because of this faster growth, there will be fewer adults of prime working age relative to the senior population. As a result, a greater share of the state’s human and economic resources will be used to provide health care and other types of support for this group.”

While much of the public support for seniors comes from the federal government via Social Security, Medicare and its share of Medi-Cal and “in-home supportive services,” PPIC says, “the state will need additional resources, including nursing care facilities and health care professionals…”

“California’s community college system will be critical in training workers to meet the state’s health care workforce needs for the growing and changing senior population,” the report concludes.

Coincidentally, the California HealthCare Foundation also released a report on Thursday about the adequacy of medical care for the state’s rising senior population. It concluded that while the increasing population will increase demands on services, the impacts will vary by service type and region.

“Beds for Boomers: Will California's Supply of Services Meet Senior Demand?” says while there probably will be enough acute care hospital beds available to meet seniors’ needs, there may be a shortage of other services such as long-term care, home health care, skilled nursing and residential living facilities.

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