Watching Gov. Gavin Newsom focus some of his youthful energy on the issue of aging is both refreshing and clearly required, especially given his observation that California is getting grayer in staggering numbers.
Newsom noted in his State of the State address in February that California’s over-65 population will nearly double to 8.6 million in the next decade. Recently, he issued an executive order to devise a plan that will help the aging population of the Golden State better enjoy its golden years.
In charging a cabinet-level workgroup with developing a Master Plan for Aging by Oct. 1, 2020, Gov. Newsom is tackling a formidable, long-term challenge. This population segment is projected to balloon from one out of every seven Californians today to one in four by 2050. That’s a breathtaking 80% jump in just three decades.
As someone integrally involved with planning and improving senior living and care, I found the governor’s acknowledgement that we need to be ready for this boon to be a tremendous relief.
For the first time in history, California’s “grayest generation” will outnumber young children. But numbers tell only a fraction of the story.
Much of our graying population faces growing problems. Some arise from the changing nature of gray demographics. Today’s older Americans are likelier than ever to be single, childless, to live alone, and to have lower incomes and smaller or nonexistent retirement resources.
There are other financial challenges. Most older adults live on a fixed income. In much of the state, particularly its large urban centers, fixed incomes provide little if any wiggle room to cover sky-high rents, the single largest expense for most older adults.
According to the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, over 75% of low-income older tenants in California spend more than a third of their income on rent in a notoriously tight housing market.
For many older Californians, decent housing is out of reach, and this plays a significant role in the fact that one in every five California residents over 65 lives in poverty, a higher proportion than in any other state.
Poverty among Californians over 65 is even more common for women, African Americans, Latinos and people in poor health. The result: Older adults–and others–are fleeing the state, with the Bay Area leading the nation in outward migration.
Coupled with the high cost of housing–and, in much of the state, the high overall cost of living–is the need that many older Californians confront for long-term care, for which few are financially well prepared.
In fact, many are wiped out by the need for long-term care and must eventually rely on Medi-Cal when their savings run dry.
The infrastructure of aging is also facing challenges. The growing number of older Californians require ever larger numbers of qualified caregivers and providers of long-term services and support.
According to the state Employment Development Department, in just the next five years California will require over 200,000 additional personal care aides and roughly 13,000 additional certified home health aides–which, incidentally, will further stress the housing market.
Clearly, these multifaceted challenges require a holistic response–precisely the kind of response that Gov. Newsom’s Master Plan for Aging appears aimed at creating: a harnessing of the resources of government at all levels in concert with the energy and ingenuity of both for-profit and not-for-profit entities.
Jeannee Parker Martin is president and chief executive officer of LeadingAge California, whose members represent nonprofit providers of senior living and care, [email protected]. She wrote this commentary for CalMatters.