by Patrick Gannon
Call it the “graying of North Carolina.”
The state is getting older, a phenomenon that brings with it many issues and problems for government to address in the coming years and decades. Some already are here.
It’s also a trend legislators and other state leaders are talking about more often. Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed state budget includes two pages dedicated to “age.” It notes the fact that as the state’s roughly 2.4 million baby boomers reach retirement age and life expectancy increases, the population of residents 65 and older will increase rapidly during the next couple of decades.
The statistics are startling. According to the budget, the median age in North Carolina is expected to increase from 38.3 years today to 40.9 by 2034. And by that same year, the state is expected to have 323,000 residents 85 or older, including nearly 6,000 centenarians.
Meanwhile, at the Legislative building, the House Aging Committee recently heard a presentation from Suzanne Merrill, director of the N.C. Division of Aging and Adult Services. Her data suggest that the population of residents 65 and older will increase by more than 58 percent by 2033, and those 85 and older will nearly double during that time.
By 2018, North Carolina will have more people 60 and older than 17 and younger. Along those lines, by 2025, 90 of the 100 counties are projected to have more people 60 and older than 17 and younger.
Merrill told legislators that more than 33,000 people 60 and older migrated to North Carolina in 2013, a trend expected to continue as areas near the beach and in the mountains remain popular retirement destinations. She also told them that poverty rates increase for older age ranges.
The aging population brings with it many needs for services. Merrill pointed out that in February, more than 4,200 people were on a waiting list for in-home aide, while nearly 2,600 waited for home-delivered meals. Hundreds of additional older adults waited for other services, such as housing and home improvement and transportation.
As the number of older adults increases, federal and state funding for services has been cut recently. It’s an issue facing many states with aging populations as they struggle to recover from the economic recession.
“Since the economic recession began in 2008, many legislatures have struggled to maintain balanced budgets and meet the growing service needs of an aging population,” according to a recently released state plan on aging for the next four years. “While this has sparked greater efficiencies in government, it has also been marked by a reduction in what can be expected of publicly financed services for vulnerable adults of all ages and their family caregivers.”
One quick example: The General Assembly, for the 2015 fiscal year, cut nearly $1 million from the program that provides such services to older North Carolinians. According to the aging plan, that reduction will result in more than 41,000 fewer meals delivered to home-bound seniors.
Less funding, combined with the “graying of North Carolina,” could bring much longer waiting lists.