Boomers have always been an impressive bunch.
After going to Woodstock together (or pretending to), they marked each milestone as a loud, unwieldy group. And now? They're aging together, in such large numbers that futurists warn of a silver tsunami. In Connecticut, the group is "almost impossible to wrap your arms around," said Julia Evans Starr, executive director of the Connecticut Commission on Aging. The commission predicts that Connecticut's over-65 population could grow 64 percent by 2030. And most of those seniors aren't retiring to sunny Florida. According to the AARP, 90 percent of Americans stay put after retiring. Most remain in the same county -- and even the same house, if they're able.
The changing demographics caught the attention of the state's leaders. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy recently re-established a state Department on Aging and appointed former state Sen. Edith Prague -- who was once the state's commissioner on aging -- as its head. In their most recent session, state legislators debated a couple of age-centric bills, including one passed by both chambers that seeks to address seniors' ability to age in place.
Orlando J. Rodriguez, senior policy fellow at Connecticut Voices for Children, recently published a report in "The Connecticut Economy" that called Connecticut, already the country's seventh oldest state, a "retirement haven." That's especially true for seniors who are disabled or poor and can take advantage of credits for local property taxes with the Connecticut Homeowner's Elderly/Disabled Tax Relief Program. And this is particularly important as the tsunami prepares to crash. By traditional measures of poverty, 6 percent of Connecticut's seniors are poor. Using something called the supplemental poverty measure, the figure more than doubles, to 13 percent.
That traditional measure was developed in the 1960s, with few changes in the intervening years. The newer means, first used in 2011 by the Census Bureau, takes into account things like tax payments, work expenses, and benefits such as SNAP, which used to be known as food stamps.
Of the state's towns, Rodriguez said that Bridgeport should see the largest rise in seniors -- 6,800 -- between 2010 and 2025.
So what are towns doing to prepare? Not much, said Rodriguez. Town planners tend to pay attention to shrinking school enrollment, but few consider what's happening on the other end of the bench.
Connecticut towns that stand the best chance of weathering the tsunami are ones -- such as New Canaan -- that have started planning already. Jim Lisher is chairman of the town's Health and Human Services Commission. He said that in the last four years, town senior case workers saw a 300 percent increase in their workload, in part because of the recession.
Recent senior-friendly changes in New Canaan include the installation of benches along town walkways, development of assisted living and affordable housing for seniors, and a pilot Telehealth wellness program that gives town seniors medical equipment so they can keep track of things like blood pressure, and also puts them in frequent touch, via technology like iPads, with a nurse. The program began with 10 seniors ages 70 to 85, and is set to expand, Lisher said. The idea is to keep seniors out of institutional care and allow them to age in place, which is less expensive, and it's what most seniors prefer. The town looked specifically at housing and health care, because, said Lisher, "the two are joined at the hip." Rodriguez said other towns would do well to start planning.
"We're not looking far into the future," he said. "We're looking at 10 years."
Susan Campbell is a former columnist at the Hartford Courant and is now communications/development director at Partnership for Strong Communities, a Hartford-based non-profit. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.