They were a significant part of the consumer economy of the 1950s, they helped create the counter-culture of the 1960s, redefined social norms in the 1970s, marched in the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s, were part of the boom years in the 1990s, and got caught in the Great Recession.
They have fought America’s wars, served society, built businesses, invented and innovated, held political office, raised families and, in general, been good citizens.
Now they are getting old.
During the last decade, the number of Alabamians between the ages of 50 and 65 increased 32 percent.
The state is on track to follow the national trajectory. In the 2010 Census, 14 percent of the U.S. population was older than 65. By 2030, that number should reach 23 percent. In traditional human societies, the elderly number around 4 percent. According to Andy Duxbury, a gerontologist at UAB, “No human society has ever had to deal with this before.”
But deal with it we must. And so must the Baby Boomers.
Boomers must accept the reality that they will get old and should work to keep themselves as healthy, active and independent as they can. Exercise, diet and financial security must be addressed — now, not later.
On average, adult Alabamians exercise little and are overweight, and even those who have put money away so they will not be dependent solely on Social Security saw the recession threaten, if not wipe away, that nest egg. Some hard decisions will have to be made.
Government and society must also make some difficult choices.
There is discussion of reforming Medicare through a voucher system that will allow seniors (who are now age 55 and younger) to pick the insurance that is best for them. Those discussions must take in the reality that this is one of the most complex industries in the country, and getting people of any age, let alone the elderly, to competently understand it can be difficult.
Shortfalls in funding of programs such as Medicare and Medicaid must be avoided.
The cost of these services will grow as the population ages. If the state and federal government fail to take this growth into consideration and plan accordingly, these programs will eat up a significant part of their budgets. This will not be a one-time thing that can be addressed by “borrowing” from a state savings account. This will be permanent — at least until the last Baby Boomer dies.
Shortages in critical areas like nursing and other health-care providers must be anticipated and addressed. Faith-based organizations must step up and help. So must families and friends.
The aging population is not a crisis yet, but it could be if it is not addressed.
The time to act is now.