Foon Rhee

The Numbers Crunch: Face it, baby boomers, we’re getting old

Seniors watch a movie on an outing organized by the Capital City Village, a social network for retirees in Austin, Texas. As baby boomers age, the number of seniors in California is projected to nearly double by 2030.
Seniors watch a movie on an outing organized by the Capital City Village, a social network for retirees in Austin, Texas. As baby boomers age, the number of seniors in California is projected to nearly double by 2030. The New York Times

During the next 15 years, as baby boomers retire, California’s population of seniors will skyrocket; the fastest growth will be among Asians and Latinos, and many more will be single and even childless.

Uh-oh, that sounds suspiciously like me.

Born in December 1963, I’m at the very tail end of the baby boom generation. Like many, I’m still in denial. So far, I’ve tossed the AARP applications that started arriving right after I turned 50. Thankfully, I’m in good health, but unless I win the lottery, I need to get in better financial shape, especially if I want to retire early and travel the world.

The big problem for Californians would be if state policymakers and lawmakers were also avoiding reality and weren’t fully prepared for the surge of seniors and their changing demographics.

In its new report, the Public Policy Institute of California warns that the state must be ready for the 4 million additional residents over the age of 65 by 2030, when the youngest baby boomers like me reach retirement age. Seniors are projected to make up nearly 20 percent of the population, and there will be proportionately fewer workers to pay for state programs.

Of the 8.6 million seniors by then, more than 1 million will need some daily living assistance – either in their own houses or in nursing homes – nearly double the 567,000 in 2012. That rise will directly increase state costs for Medi-Cal and In-Home Supportive Services, the report says.

Policymakers need to be thinking now about how to meet the needs of this new generation of seniors, the researchers say. For instance, since more seniors are likely to want to stay at home, in-home services will have to be boosted, especially for those without children to help out.

On the positive side, in-home care would be much less expensive for taxpayers than nursing homes (a semi-private room costs $30,000 a year more than 40 hours a week of a home health aide). An estimated 106,000 will need nursing home care in 2030. To keep that number from going higher, the report says, the state should consider rules that reserve nursing home care only for those who cannot be cared for in their homes.

In addition, the report points out that the state needs to make sure it has enough nursing care facilities and health care workers, especially physician’s assistants and health aides who provide in-home services. The state’s community colleges need to gear up to produce many of these new workers.

And to deal with the more diverse senior population, health workers must be trained to relate to people of all ethnic groups, and there needs to be more outreach to find more workers from different ethnic groups.

It’s a lot to take in.

For a lot of baby boomers, these life decisions for an elderly parent are daunting enough. Confronting them for ourselves can be too much.

We may want to snicker at those “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” ads on TV, but that could be us one day. We – and state policymakers – can avoid the reality of aging for only so long.

By the numbers

Some key figures on California’s increasing and changing senior population:

  • Total age 65-plus: 8.6 million in 2030, 4.6 million in 2012.
  • Latinos: 2.3 million in 2030, 840,000 in 2012.
  • Asians: 1.4 million in 2030, 649,500 in 2012.
  • Divorced/separated: 1.5 million in 2030, 705,000 in 2012.
  • Never married: 828,700 in 2030, 267,500 in 2012.
  • Limited self-care, living at home: 919,000 in 2030, 475,500 in 2012.
  • Living in nursing homes: 106,500 in 2030, 91,500 in 2012.

Source: Public Policy Institute of California

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