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New n4a Report: U.S. Communities Struggle to Keep Up With Needs of Aging Population
Due to the financial consequences from the Great Recession, many U.S. communities have been unable to make significant progress in preparing to meet the needs of the country’s rapidly aging population. “The Maturing of America – Communities Moving Forward for an Aging Population,” a follow-up to an extensive survey conducted in 2005, reveals that at best, communities have managed to maintain the status quo for the past six years due to the decline in the overall economy and local government budgets. This report also reveals that, despite the challenges, important advances have been made including increase in specialized training for emergency and public safety staff in dealing with older adults; growth of in-home supportive services; greater support for advanced education for the workforce; and expanded volunteer opportunities. Even so, with millions of Baby Boomers reaching retirement age, these advancements are nowhere near the level of progress needed to ensure that communities are livable for people of all ages.
The Maturing of America
Communities Moving Forward for an Aging Population
Two powerful phenomena have come face-to-face this year, demanding urgent
attention. One is demographic: the rapid and dramatic aging of the U.S.
population. In 2011, in communities across the country, the leading edge of
the Baby Boom generation reached age 65. By 2030, more than 70 million
Americans—twice the number in 2000—will be 65 and older. At that time,
older adults will comprise nearly one in fi ve Americans.
The other phenomenon is the Great Recession, which began officially in
December 2007. In the U.S., despite initial signs of recovery, it continues
to heavily influence policy, programs and planning. States continue to cut
budgets, and municipalities are also financially distressed. As a result of the
recession, spending for aging supports and services is shrinking—precisely at
the time it is needed most.
With the convergence of these two forces, critical concerns come to the fore.
How prepared are communities across America to tap the vast potential of
the oncoming wave of older adults? How are policies in all dimensions of
community life being adapted to support these individuals as they age in place,
particularly during the most advanced years of their lives? What initiatives are
underway to address the “maturing” of America?
To answer these questions, with support from MetLife Foundation, and in
partnership with the International City/County Management Association (ICMA),
American Planning Association, National Association of Counties, National
League of Cities, and Partners for Livable Communities, the National Association
of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a) led a nationwide survey: “The Maturing of
America—Communities Moving Forward for an Aging Population.” The
survey, administered in 2010 by ICMA, was intended to assess progress against
benchmarks established in the first “Maturing of America” survey conducted in
2005. In both cases, the findings were eye-opening.
Key Finding: n4a’s report on the first survey, issued in 2006, found that,
while many communities had some programs to address the needs of older
adults, few had undertaken a comprehensive assessment to create a “livable
community” for all ages, including the diverse population of those age 65+.
The new survey reveals only limited progress in advancing this goal. Indeed,
as a result of the severe economic challenges associated with the recession,
most communities have been able only to “hold the line”— maintaining
We call upon policymakers at all levels of government, but particularly at the
local level, to move forward energetically—even if incrementally—to address the
challenges at hand. We urge local community leaders—working with Area Agencies
on Aging, universities, businesses, nonprofit organizations, other public sector
entities and older adults themselves—to become champions and change agents who
can break through the current stalemate. We hope that this report, which spotlights
the ways some communities are doing just that, will inspire fresh momentum.
Specific Notable Findings
Advances: Notwithstanding the challenges faced by local governments, there
have been notable areas of advancement by communities since the 2005
survey. Communities report the following:
• Increased support for older adults
• A dramatic increase in the availability of specialized training for public
safety and emergency staff in dealing with older adults, from 24% in 2005
to 59% in 2010. Such training is indispensable for those helping older
persons during natural and manmade disasters.
• Significant growth in the provision of in-home support services for older
adults, from 71% in 2005 to 77% in 2010. This change responds to older
individuals’ desire to remain in their homes and communities as long as
possible, rather than being forced into institutional care.
• Greater support for advanced education and retooling for the workforce
• Significant increase in programs that support older adults’ participation
in local educational opportunities (e.g. discounts, transportation), from
45% in 2005 to 52% in 2010. This finding likely reflects older adults’
desire for educational enrichment as well as to refresh workforce skills.
• Expanded opportunities for older adult contribution to the community
• Very significant rise in volunteer opportunities for older adults (e.g.
arts, culture, human services), from 66% in 2005 to 80% in 2010.
Communities are clearly acknowledging the invaluable resource
represented by older volunteers, who can contribute in every dimension
of civic and community life.
Challenges: Local governments identified three top challenges their
communities face in meeting the needs of or planning for older adults. While
responses varied, the challenges most often cited were financial/funding
shortages, transportation and housing. This lineup contrasts with the top three
identified challenges in 2005, which were, in the following order, housing,
financial issues and various health issues.
Top Three Challenges in
Meeting the Needs of or Planning for Older Adults
This articulation of current challenges is backed up by how local governments
assess their economic condition:
• In 2010, only 42% of jurisdictions indicated they were experiencing some
growth—a drop of 25 percentage points from the 67% reporting some growth
• In 2010, 30% of local governments experienced some decline; a nearly threefold
increase from the 11% that reported that they experienced some decline
Following are capsule summaries of the findings of each section of the 2010 survey.
Programs & Services for a Maturing America:
• Health care—Over two-thirds (69%) of local governments report the
availability of health care services that meet a range of needs. However,
communities with larger populations are far more likely to provide/deliver these
(all local governments of 1,000,000+ report doing so); older adults in more
rural areas are at a significant disadvantage in securing health care services. This
disparity is also true of prescription drug programs (other than Medicare Part
D), wellness programs, preventive screenings and immunizations
• Nutrition—Respondents indicate that congregate and home-delivered meals
programs are available in 85% of communities, and more than half of local
governments report that the meal provider/deliverer is a nonprofit or faith based
organization. A high percentage of communities (73%) also report the
availability of nutrition education programs.
• Exercise—Over 70% of communities report the availability of exercise
classes tailored to specific health concerns, such as heart disease, arthritis,
diabetes and falls, and nearly 90% report the availability of local parks and
other venues that have safe, easy-to-reach walking/biking trails. The Pacific
Coast region leads the nation in the availability of both initiatives.
• Transportation—Programs that provide transportation to and from health
care services, as well to other destinations (such as grocery stores and
cultural events) are reported by over 80% of respondents, about the same as
in 2005. Transportation options range widely in availability. Three-quarters
of communities report having in place sidewalks and street crossings that
are safe and accessible for older pedestrians; fewer report having sidewalk
systems linking residences and essential services.
• Public safety/emergency—The percentage of local governments reporting
specialized training for public safety/emergency staff in dealing with older
adults more than doubled, to 59% from 24% in 2005. However, communities
reporting plans in place for evacuation of older adults, if needed, decreased
to 71% from 81% in 2005. Communities report a modest decline in
availability of programs to detect and prevent elder abuse and neglect.
• Housing—Availability of programs to provide home maintenance and
repair assistance, home modification and targeted service delivery to meet
the needs of older adults (e.g. backyard trash collection, sidewalk snow
removal) remains roughly the same as fi ve years ago. Subsidized housing
availability slipped to 63% from 70% in 2005.
• Taxation and finance—Reported property tax relief for older adults on limited
incomes shows a steep drop in availability, to 54% from 72% in 2005. Availability
of programs to educate and inform older adults about financial fraud and
predatory lending has declined somewhat (to 65% from 69% in 2005), while
availability of assistance with preparation of tax forms slightly increased.
• Workforce development—Forty-eight percent of respondents report the
availability of workforce skills development services targeting older adults,
while 39% report employer engagement/education programs.
• Community and civic engagement—A very significant increase in volunteer
opportunities for older adults is reported, to 80% from 66% in 2005.
Substantial engagement of older adults in local planning and decision making
processes is also reported, and close to 90% of respondents indicate
that older adults are represented on advisory boards, commissions or
committees that deal with planning issues that affect them.
• Aging/human services—There has been significant growth in availability
of in-home support services for older adults since 2005, to 77% from 71%.
Local governments report a drop in availability of a single-entry point
model for services, to 37% from 42% in 2005.
Planning & Policies that Benefit Older Adults:
• Strategic plan—Only 30% of respondents report having in place a process
that solicits input from older persons, and just over half that many (17%)
report having comprehensive assessments and strategic plans in place. More
however, note that they intend to institute such assessment and planning
(26% and 27% respectively).
• Land use planning—Local governments are implementing land use planning
tools to varying extents, with the master plan being the one most often in place
(67%). Zoning that supports complete streets is reported by a majority of local
governments (54%). Zoning requirements that support aging in place and
active lifestyles for older adults (e.g. higher density, mixed-use development, and
amenities) are reported by 44% of respondents
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