Hotspots for Aging: An Economic Opportunity

Hotspots for Aging: An Economic Opportunity

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In the midst of heated political debates today about the fiscal sustainability of Social Security and Medicare, the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings has released a report analyzing the 2010 Census Data through the lens of aging issues. There’s a wealth of enlightening data here – and with the populations in some areas aging much faster than in others, lawmakers, policy leaders, presidential candidates and others need to focus on finding ways to better harness the economic power of our older populations of citizens.

Who’s getting old the quickest? The answers may be surprising.   

Neither Florida nor Arizona rank among the top four aging states. According to the report, the states with the highest median ages are Maine, Vermont, West Virginia, New Hampshire, and Florida. Interestingly enough, none of these five states are home to the fastest aging U.S. cities — Raleigh, NC; Austin, TX; Las Vegas, NV; Boise City, ID; and Atlanta, GA. What we’re seeing is rapid aging in a cluster of cities and states that share little geographic or cultural similarities.

Aging Americans are migrating to, and staying put within, particular hotspots that share no real geographical theme. But with 80 million baby boomers poised to hit traditional retirement age, the U.S. economy will flop mightily in the coming decades if it cannot find innovative ways to incorporate aging populations into the economy in a significant way.

None of the top five (or even ten) aging cities in the U.S. are among those included in the World Health Organization’s Global Age-Friendly Cities project, by the way. In fact, and quite depressingly, only two cities in the U.S. are members of this — Portland, Oregon, with its Institute on Aging, and New York City – as compared to, say, Canada’s four cities. Even Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and Australia — countries with fractions of our population — have two apiece.

Though Portland and NYC should be commended for their work towards building age-friendly cities, the rest of the U.S. needs to catch up. The WHO’s initiative is really quite simple: It works to find ways to support and enable the aging to lead active, healthy lives that keep them participating in economic and civic life. 

Of course, cities don’t need to be a part of the WHO’s project to be age friendly. Take Newcastle, England, which is developing the Institute for Ageing and Health, an enormous campus of academic, business, retail and health care facilities. Highlighting the retail quarter is a new “pensioner-friendly” Tesco supermarket, with brighter lights, shopping carts equipped with magnifying glasses and seats, and “senior corners” containing sofas, water coolers, and access to the Internet. 

As American communities age, they might consider looking to Newcastle or New York for leadership. And as government leaders, presidential candidates and others take on the pressing fiscal issues of the day, they might also focus on how local communities can turn our aging populations into economic value drivers – so that the entire country benefits.  

Visit the  Age and Reason home page.

Executive director of the Global Coalition on Aging, Michael W. Hodin, Ph.D., is also managing partner at High Lantern Group and a fellow at Oxford University's Harris Manchester College.