Print More

(HOST) Commentator Madeleine Kunin has been thinking about the predicted increase in elderly Vermonters – why it’s happening and the challenges and opportunities that come with it.

(KUNIN) We’ve all heard about the burden society will face as the aging population increases dramatically.

In 2003 people over sixty-five made up twelve percent of the population.

By 2030, they – or should I say, we – will be twenty percent of the population.

How will we care for all those old baby boomers?

And how will we pay for their care?

Well, here’s some good news.

Aging isn’t what it used to be.

In the last twenty years, there has been a significant drop in older people with disabilities.

You can be old chronologically, but remain healthy and active. Eventually, of course, older people will become frail, but it will happen later.

The percentage of people over sixty-five who had a disability fell from twenty-six percent to nineteen percent, according to a recent census report.

The likelihood that these Americans will reach ninety has doubled in the last forty years.

Why has this change occurred?

Older people are more prosperous, better educated, and healthier.

The poverty rate for the elderly has declined from thirty-five percent in 1959 to ten percent in 2003.

News to cheer about – but we must add that the poverty rate for older Hispanic women is twenty-one percent and for older black women twenty-seven percent.

My theory is that the lives of the elderly have improved because they have political clout.

They vote. They lobby.

AARP is one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington.

Witness that the only major new domestic program enacted in the last five years was the Medicare Drug benefit.

But there’s more to the story. For the elderly it’s not just Bingo anymore. Everywhere there are lively senior centers, lectures, meals on wheels, elderly volunteers, and of course, Medicare. What is troubling is that those who have limited political clout – those under five years of age – have seen an increase in their level of poverty.

What if all three generations – grandparents, parents, and grandchildren, joined hands to reduce poverty for one another.

We have seen some inter-generational programs that benefit every age group.One is when day care and elder care are provided on the same site. Not only does each group benefit, but the combination allows them to enrich one other.

The elderly have improved their lives over recent years, proving that change is possible. The next step is to write a similar story for our children.

Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont.

Comments are closed.