The graying of America is changing everything. Seventy-five million baby boomers, the largest demographic in U.S. history, are rolling into their 70s. They’re taking social security, on Medicare and Medicaid, and the vast majority have little in the way of savings.
If their health is good, some boomers are continuing to work into their seventies–not always for pleasure but of economic necessity. Those who have retired or can’t work due to health are finding themselves priced out; rents, medical care and basic utilities keep rising even though the rate-of-inflation has been at historic lows. Those on fixed incomes are in a terrible fix, for which younger generations are not eager to pay. To make matters worse, the Republican-led congress seems intent on eliminating America’s safety net programs, threatening cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Here in California, state and county health and welfare programs are being cut too.
As people live longer, the likelihood of cancer, heart trouble, kidney failure and broken bones increases. Dementia rates are rising; both budgets and facilities to cope with widespread dementia are severely limited. Similarly, housing opportunities for the elderly are insufficient, particularly here in California. Combined with inadequate and unreliable public transportation, the housing crisis is also a crisis of culture; at the very time in life when driving a car becomes dangerous due to vision problems and slower reaction times, affordable bus service is lacking.
America is not designed for the elderly. From pedestrian safety to simple shelter from the elements at a bus stop, even our local Sonoma Valley infrastructure seems as if it were designed for the convenience of machines, not people–and most certainly not the elderly. Yet, nearly a quarter of the U.S. population is now elderly and the proportion in Sonoma Valley is higher.
When young, today’s seniors were the unique beneficiaries of an undue focus on youth. The post WWII years brought forth the boomer generation which was to become the “teenager” revolution of the ’50s that fueled new schools, innovative educational programs, and lest we forget, rock-and-roll. The music continues, as do some of the musicians; however, now the tunes that used to be “groovy” are soundtracks in commercials for Hondas and organic food. Our consumer focus has shifted from paisley pants to adult-sized Pampers, and drug culture has morphed from consciousness expansion to anti-depressants.
Digital technology, an invention of the boomers, deals perhaps the cruelest blow of all. Advances and continuous “upgrades” of device technology are leaving baby boomers behind. From being unable to operate appliances offered with online instructions only, computer programs that track behavior, and automated telephone systems devoid of human interaction, the elderly face the prospect of technological isolation.
The irony of this is that in sheer numbers, the elderly are powerful; if the boomers could organize politically, they could swing America in whatever direction they wanted. The elderly vote in higher numbers than any other demographic. Unfortunately, the elderly are also afraid, and their lonely vulnerability inclines many to confusion and manipulation. It’s hard to keep up with the news when keeping up with your diabetes and staying on top of drug prescriptions.
Finally, there’s this: where will our elderly go if they are displaced by economic forces?
– Sun Editorial Board