Washington state is expected to have one of the nation’s fastest-growing elderly populations, and by the year 2020, one in six state residents will be 65 or older.
According to a national study released Monday, Washington’s older population is projected to increase 104 percent between 1993 and 2020, making it the fifth-fastest-growing state in the nation for that age group.
“Everyone knows we’re getting older,” said Kevin Kinsella, an analyst with the U.S. Census Bureau, which conducted the study with the National Institute on Aging.
“We wanted to keep the lamp lit about changes expected to occur in the not-too-distant future. These data are important because they confirm that states need to prepare their resources for an increasingly aged population.”
Demographers long have warned about the implications of aging baby boomers - those born between 1946 and 1964.
Nationally, they are nearly 80 million strong. Over the next four decades, the number of older Americans will double from some 30 million today to 65 million when the youngest boomers turn 65.
Today, Washington state’s elderly population is growing slowly because those who preceded the baby-boom generation are a significantly smaller group, said Theresa Lowe, who forecasts population for the state Office of Financial Management.
State figures show those 65 and older made up 11.6 percent of the population in 1995; by the year 2020, that figure will grow to 16 percent.
Nationally, said Kinsella, the elderly comprised about 12 percent of the population in 1994.
According to the study, Nevada is projected to have the fastest-growing elderly population, increasing 116 percent by 2020. It’s followed by Arizona, Colorado, Georgia and Washington.
In 1993, Washington ranked 18th among the states in the total of its elderly population; by 2020 - when the state’s elderly population is projected to grow to 1.2 million - it will rise to 13th.
While much of the growth is attributed to the aging baby boomers, some also reflects the growing popularity of some rural Washington counties as retirement meccas.
Further, the growing elderly population may also reflect a smaller number of Washington residents leaving the state after they reach retirement age.
That migration pattern is key to the huge elderly growth expected in Nevada and Arizona over the next two decades.
The 200-page report looks at population, social, economic and health data of the nation’s elderly population.
Among the findings:
The oldest-of-the-old population, those 85 and older, is growing most rapidly. In 1994, an estimated 3.5 million people were age 85 and older, about 10 percent of the elderly; by the middle of the 21st century, demographers predict there will be as many people 85 and older as between 65 and 69.
Today’s elderly are better off economically than they were in past decades. The median income for the elderly has more than doubled since 1957. Yet, the poverty rate among older people increases substantially with age.
Social Security was the major source of income for 63 percent of its beneficiaries in 1992 and, for one in four recipients, accounts for virtually all of their income.
Poverty is particularly a problem for older women living alone. In 1992, elderly women had a poverty rate of nearly 16 percent, compared to 9 percent for men. Women make up 58 percent of the elderly population but 71 percent of the elderly poor.
Most elderly men are married; most elderly women are not, according to 1993 data. That is tied to the gender gap in life expectancy and differences in remarriage rates between the sexes.
The number and proportion of the elderly is increasing worldwide. China and India have the largest numbers of elderly; the U.S. ranks third.