Iowans over the age of 65 make up almost 16 percent of the state’s population — outpacing the national average of 14 percent — according to a report put out last week by the Administration on Aging, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The annual report profiles the country’s older Americans, offering a glimpse at their income levels, race and ethnicity as well as providing projections on how the population will grow.
Nationwide, there were 44.7 million people aged 65 years or older in 2013, which increased by 8.8 million or 24.7 percent in the past decade. And the number of older Americans is projected to hit 82.3 million by 2040, comprising 21.7 percent of the total population.
In Iowa, there were more than 480,800 people over 65 years old in 2013, which represented a 10 percent increase from 2003. Iowa’s increase has been at a much slower pace than the majority of other states — Alaska has seen its older population jump 61 percent from 2003 to 2013 and Nevada’s older population grew 50 percent in that same time period.
Kent Sovern, state director of AARP Iowa, said the state and country need to “embrace the age wave,” which he added will bring challenges as well as opportunities to the private, public and not-for-profit sectors.
“We like to ask what your 50-plus strategy is,” he said.
That especially is true when it comes to housing options. Sovern said more seniors are choosing to stay in their homes — living independently — and architects, developers, and planners need to incorporate those changes into their future plans.
The report backs up that statement, finding only about 1.5 million people, or 3.4 percent of older Americans, lived in a nursing home in 2013. That percentage increases with age — with about 1 percent of those aged 65 to 74 years residing in a nursing home while 10 percent of those 85 or older do.
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“The idea of senior housing is slowly eroding,” Sovern said, explaining seniors look for many of the same amenities as young professionals, including units in high density areas close to public transportation. “And it needs to be replaced by the idea of housing suitable for seniors.”
The report also looked at the number of older Americans living in poverty and those who still are in the workforce.
More than 4.2 million older adults or 9.5 percent lived below the poverty level in 2013, this was up from 9.1 percent in 2012.
The number of older Iowans living below the poverty level — at $11,770 for an individual — is lower than the national rate at only 7.5 percent of the population below the poverty line, according to the report.
This was one of the lowest percentages in the country, and there were 15 states with poverty rates at or above 10 percent — with Washington, D.C. having the highest percentage in the country at 17.5 percent.
In addition, in 2014 there were 8.4 million people 65 and older or 18.6 percent still in the labor force, either working or actively seeking work. Older Americans made up 5 percent of the U.S. labor force, according to the report.
“Workers either want or need to work longer,” Sovern said.
Employers need to incorporate that into their strategies he added, along with offering flexible hours to employees who may be caregivers to aging parents.
“We are not prepared to care,” he said. “We don’t have the systems in place that families need.”