Around the County

The graying of the town

Posted 6/11/20

The estimates look staggering. Two-thirds of the people over 65 years of age and three-fourths of those over 75 who have ever lived in all of time are alive, right now, this moment, today.

But …

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Around the County

The graying of the town

Posted

The estimates look staggering. Two-thirds of the people over 65 years of age and three-fourths of those over 75 who have ever lived in all of time are alive, right now, this moment, today.

But this is just the beginning. In another 10 years — by 2030 — there will be more seniors over 65 than there are children under 15. By 2050, the number of seniors is expected to double again.

The numbers appear so overwhelming that we probably can take it as a given that the basic statement about the unprecedented numbers of elders is true.

This has huge consequences for a society that currently marginalizes seniors and worships youth. As for the economy, it’s changing even as we speak.

Right now, according to the AARP, 83% of American household wealth is held by people over 50, while older seniors (80 and over), hog most of the wealth held by the top 1%ers.

Their impact on the economy is so powerful that it’s spawned a new term: the Longevity Economy.

What does this mean? For openers, the Longevity Economy age group are staying employed longer, spending more money, generating tax revenue, driving entrepreneurship and investment, and are avid consumers of recreation and leisure activities.

Are they competition for younger workers? Analysts say, “no.” Instead, they claim that these seniors add value to our communities by finding new ways to complement the rest of the workforce. And, of course, seniors dominate the volunteer economy, boosting a community’s social capital.

  

Here at home

The Longevity Economy, in fact, is changing us in Park County.

A quarter of Park County’s current total population is over 65. Since another quarter is under 18 years of age, that means the current age ratio of those contributing to our local economy is 2:1; that is two (18 through 64 years of age) to one (65 and older).

In a sense, I see myself and a lot of my friends in this picture. Some of us grew up here, were part of the local economy, and sent our children to local schools. Others, though, as much as we loved our homes here, left to find work elsewhere only returning when we had a retirement income for support. Still others visited here as tourists, loved what they saw, and made this their retirement home.

All of us, health permitting, fit the larger national picture.

We volunteer and keep many of the service organizations functioning and their missions successful. We have hobby businesses — like sales of our crafts or, in my case, books. We teach our own skills to others. And, mostly, we do that without recompense to ourselves while the people we teach go on to use their new skills to earn a livelihood.

  

Senior spending

Perhaps most importantly, we spend. Most of our retirement income enters the state from outside sources and, then, is spread around our communities.

We’re the customers that help keep local businesses afloat,

We’re the majority users of health care; ones who can pay our medical bills and are responsible for the presence of a large and vibrant medical community.

We’re payers of property and sales taxes that contribute to keeping our local government services robust.

We’re the backbone of almost all the churches in the area, helping maintain our moral and spiritual fiber.

Consider further that most retirees have incomes that are largely protected from the current (or any other) economic slump, and all are covered by health insurance. While traditional working age families are struggling, the majority of our seniors can continue to meet their mortgage schedules, shop for groceries, volunteer, order take-out from otherwise closed restaurants, pay their bills, buy gas and pay taxes. In short, they’re a stable economic unit.

  

To balance the picture

Still, we’ve worried about the number of retirees moving into the area, giving us an unbalanced demographic. As much as our gray-haired coterie contributes to the economy, they generally aren’t the ones who (for example) support the schools and give us a vital educational system. They don’t open and run brick-and-mortar businesses that give us a vibrant downtown. Etc.

There are good, solid reasons why every community needs a balanced age demographic.

That said, it’s almost inevitable that our home-grown population of seniors will double as the national figure does. We can also expect to attract more retirees. Should we discourage or encourage this?

That’s a question our leaders will be grappling with in the coming years. The trick for them is going to be to keep a balance. Gray is good. But only when well-mixed.

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