Large numbers of baby boomers will soon start receiving Social Security checks. In fact, some are already receiving them if they took early retirement or have a disability. This important demographic shift will create significant consequences—both good and bad—for local governments. What must local governments do today to get ready for this imminent demographic transition?
Eighty million boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) will be retiring from full-time employment in the U.S. economy during the next two decades. This significant demographic shift should compel local governments across the United States to facilitate community-based planning and services in order to promote healthy and vital aging in their communities. The numbers are dramatic.
In 2006, there were an estimated 37 million older Americans representing more than 12 percent of the total population. During the next 20 years, the number of older adults will increase to 71.5 million and will represent nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population in 2030.
The aging of the baby-boomer generation will lead to both challenges and opportunities:
A community-based planning process to prepare communities and regions for the baby-boomer transition should integrate a number of areas: housing, mobility and transportation, supportive services, employment, lifelong learning, and community engagement.
As they initiate planning for responding to their citizens' healthy aging, local governments should consider two primary issues:
|Terms to Avoid||Terms to Use|
Midlife adults, boomers
Prime time, midlife
Encore careers, next life phase, third age
Serving your community, civic engagement
In addition to involving its own departments, other public and nonprofit agencies, and business organizations in a vital aging and planning process, local governments must, of course, engage the boomers who are transitioning from full-time employment to their next life phase. As conversation starters, conveners, and facilitators of this planning process, local government leaders need to be mindful of several key considerations.
Select the right language. Traditional phrases like "senior citizen" and "elderly" are not terms with which boomers identify. In many cases, they reject these terms outright. In a survey conducted by the Journalists Exchange on Aging, professional journalists who cover aging issues concurred that the terms "elderly" and "senior citizens" are outdated. As alternatives, they suggested "boomers" and "midlife" adults.
The planning process, therefore, should avoid certain terms and incorporate language and images that better resonate with the boomer generation.
Understand what drives boomers. The events of the 1960s shaped many of the attitudes of the boomer generation. As a group, boomers tend to be idealistic and driven by causes. They believe that they can change the world if they unite their voices and efforts. They tend to be rule breakers. Boomers are the first generation in which a majority attended college. These days, many boomers must strike a balance between demanding work schedules and busy private lives that may include both children and their own aging parents.
Use variety of data-gathering and engagement approaches. To develop the best understanding of the emerging needs and the potential contributions of the boomer population, the community planning group should use several data-gathering tools. Resident surveys are valuable for assessing the needs and interests of a representative sample of older adults in the community. Focus groups are good tools for probing beneath the survey data and gaining a more qualitative understanding of wants, challenges, and opportunities.
Public forums assist the community planning group in identifying and testing recommendations for action as well as surfacing issues and concerns. In addition to their importance as data-gathering functions, these efforts also provide opportunities to identify and recruit additional participants and leaders to get involved in any follow-up action initiatives.
Focus on assets, not deficits. A growing population of boomers presents certain challenges. Local governments may tend to think of aging boomers as a high-risk or vulnerable group that is going to drain public and private resources. If this becomes the tone of a community's healthy aging initiative, it is likely to deter participation and frighten off important partners. Instead, it is better to focus on the numerous valuable assets that boomers bring to their communities, including time to devote to service and civic affairs, professional skills, advanced education and experience, and discretionary income.
|Checklist for Aging Well Planning Initiatives|
Across the nation, we are witnessing a wide array of efforts by local governments to promote healthy aging. Derived from a new resource, Aging Well in Communities: A Toolkit for Planning, Engagement & Action, published by the Center for Civic Partnerships, the two case examples below suggest promising practices for local governments interested in designing their communities and modifying their service portfolios to improve support of the aging boomer generation.
Case Example 1: Kirkland, Washington, "Human Service Partnerships"
Kirkland, Washington (population 45,682), located 10 miles east of Seattle, was seeing an increase in its older adult population. After conducting an assessment of the needs of older adults, the Kirkland city council established in 2002 the Kirkland Senior Council, a multigenerational group committed to improving community life for older adults. The Senior Council is extremely active and has successfully implemented a number of special projects and campaigns, including:
In 2009, the council was faced with severe budget cuts. Instead of slashing human services for older adults, the council successfully engaged the neighboring cities of Bellevue, Redmond, Issaquah, and Mercer to jointly increase funding for human services by a total of $5.7 million. This multijurisdictional decision led the local Evergreen Health Care system to contribute an additional $60,000 in support of the Senior Council's Health Enhancement Program (HEP). HEP provides support in the management of chronic conditions, reduces isolation and loneliness, and incorporates positive activity into the daily lives of older adults.
Promising best practices for local governments include:
Case Example 2: Citrus Heights, California, "Enhancing Walkability for Older Adults"
Incorporated in 1997, Citrus Heights (population 81,824) is located in the northeast portion of the Sacramento metropolitan area and has the highest population density in the region. Consistent with the city's history of inclusion and collaboration, Citrus Heights residents participated in drafting the general plan, identifying quality-of-life expectations, defining the city's vision and mission, and establishing priority areas to enhance quality of life.
During the past several years, the city has conducted a number of healthy community activities, including cleanup and beautification programs, leadership development, safety programs, and providing "grants for blocks" that involved 2,200 residents in improving their neighborhoods. More recently, Citrus Heights has created multigenerational community gardens as well as conducted walkability studies and neighborhood ride audits that informed planning for accessible routes to services for older adults. The city is also launching a Green Planning Academy for older adults.
City staff and councilmembers incorporated the identified needs and recommended priorities from the walkability study in the annual capital improvement project budget process. As a result, multiple sidewalk in-fills and street connection projects have been completed, creating safe walking environments for residents.
As a result of persistent efforts by elected officials and staff, Citrus Heights was recently awarded $700,000 in Safe Routes to School federal funding that will provide sidewalk in-fill and intersection upgrades along a route that links a park on one end and a commercial center on the other, with the city's high school and an elementary school in between, to encourage walking and biking for people of all ages.
Promising best practices for local governments include:
The Center for Civic Partnerships has a number of resources on its website at www.civicpartnerships.org, and it recently published Aging Well in Communities: A Toolkit for Planning, Engagement, & Action for local governments wishing to proactively promote aging well. The toolkit consists of the following elements that will be most effective when used in combination:
ICMA also provides several smart growth resources to support healthy aging:
These resources are currently available from ICMA at www.icma.org.
Even without an infusion of significant resources, local government leaders can take the following steps to get started in developing a community-based planning process:
If local governments and their partners do not plan and organize for the baby-boomer retirement wave, they will witness greater service demands and usage, increased costs and resource deficits, lost opportunity, and turmoil as aging boomers demand accommodations of all kinds.
For those communities that do respond proactively, this demographic shift will provide great opportunities for social innovation, increased local investment, and community improvement and enrichment. The choice is ours.