How Data Can Help Governments Prepare for the Aging Population

City guides offer government councils the data needed to tackle affordable housing and health care -- and help fuel city management to solve problems and make decisions.

by Carol Marak / July 13, 2016
(Adobe Stock)

People are living longer across America. In fact, the senior population is expected to climb to 83 million by 2050, according to the real-time aging population clock, which illustrates this growth in the U.S. and how often a person turns 65.

This growing segment of the population puts strain on city and state governments in terms of housing, health care, long-term care, transportation, Medicare and Social Security. The problem emphasized by the graph below, which demonstrates the population growth starting in the year 1950, is the increased potential dependency that the population may have on city and state resources — an outstanding challenge for officials.

Using the critical data published by the Census Bureau, the Congressional Budget Office, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, published guides on the older adult population in more than 8,000 cities in the U.S.

The hope is that these guides will give government councils the data needed to tackle affordable housing and health care — and help fuel city management to solve problems and make decisions. 

If a location wants to be considered a best place to live, it must meet certain criteria. And for seniors to migrate to such places — something you want, as persons age 55+ hold 64 percent of the country’s wealth — officials need to beef up amenities and services.

Let's take a look at affordable housing. In comparing three cities — Nashville, Austin and Seattle —  economic trends, pressures, and costs that directly affect the senior population are illustrated. In Nashville, 29 percent of the people over 65 pay 35 percent or more of their monthly budget for housing. Whereas in Austin, 56 percent of the same age group pay 20 percent of their budget for it, and in Seattle, 36 percent of seniors (over 65), pay 35 percent or more.

If you’re age 60 and searching for an affordable city to retire in, which one would you pick? The city guides offer a complete representation of locations throughout the U.S., giving consumers and city officials in-depth measurements and rankings — data that can be used to improve in order to attract those 55 and older.

Furthermore, if a person wants to live in a thriving area, he or she would consider other category rankings. For example, what percentage of the age group needs help with living expenses? What are the median annual incomes and Social Security benefits of older adults in various cities? The city guides have the answers.

Other impressive stats when comparing city data of the 65+ population:

  • The median household income for older adults in Seattle is $43,141, Austin is $47,993, and Nashville is $38,445.
  • The average Social Security income per household receiving the benefit in Nashville is $16,534, Austin is $16,538, and Seattle is $16,896.
  • The average retirement income per household receiving it in Nashville is $20,720, Austin is $27,351, and Seattle is $26,579.
  • 12,294 seniors in Seattle are employed. In Austin, 12,060 work, and in Nashville, the number is 12,331.

If lifestyle and wellness are important, then Seattle is the winner. At the state level, each state is ranked on a scale of 1 to 50, where 1 is the highest and 50 is the lowest. Overall, Washington ranks 11, Texas, 41, and Tennessee lands at 44. Other health rankings:

Washington ranks:

  • 28 in obesity
  • 9 in smoking
  • 39 in chronic drinking
  • 3 in physical inactivity

Texas rankings:

  • 31 in obesity
  • 22 in smoking
  • 45 for chronic drinking
  • 42 in physical inactivity

Tennessee ranks:

  • 34 for obesity
  • 43 for smoking
  • 1 for chronic drinking
  • 48 in physical inactivity

Imagine what entities could learn by measuring local data of a constituents’ living arrangements and housing costs, long-term care expenses, health rankings, prices of medical procedures, Medicare costs, and range of income diversity? It’s a treasure chest of information that gives a clear image of the citizens’ infrastructure.

The data also highlights social trends in particular locations, like how many older adults live alone, health-care costs, and how each locale compares to neighboring jurisdictions. By collating significant data from federal government and private sources, gives estimates to city councils on how it serves the residents and if services are affordable. Without the local data, officials might know little about what is happening in their area. 

When it comes time to draw up the next tax proposition regarding the aging population, officials will have raw data to convince voters.

Carol Marak is an aging alone advocate, columnist, speaker and editor at A former family caregiver, Carol earned a Fundamentals of Gerontology Certificate from the USC Davis School of Gerontology and writes about personal concerns while growing older.

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