New Census numbers show the retirement-age population is growing in all corners of Oregon. No county, urban or rural, is spared.
While Oregon is following the national trend, driven by the aging baby boomer generation, Oregon's 65-and-older population is growing faster than the nation as a whole. Oregon is also older on average; the median the median age is 39.3 years, compared to 38 for the U.S. as a whole.
Oregon is a retirement destination. Portland has for decades attracted more 40-and-older, college-educated people than any other major metro. But the majority of the growth comes not from migration, but from Oregonians aging in their home state.
The senior boom, though long anticipated, will put a serious strain on Oregon communities' healthcare and housing infrastructure, and it could have serious implications for the state's economy.
Across the state, there's a major shortage of housing suitable for senior citizens. Most seniors live independently, not in nursing homes or other facilities, but few homes are designed with their mobility needs in mind, said Alan DeLaTorre, a researcher at the Institute on Aging at Portland State University.
"We've been building assuming that we're not going to grow up and grow old," he said. "We assume that we're going to be the same age that we were when we bought the house."
And once seniors hit 75 years old, the likelihood they also have disabilities increases dramatically.
"The need for long-term care is high," DeLaTorre said. "There's still this need to take care of people in non-independent settings."
Rural areas will feel the need even more acutely. Many have already seen an exodus of working-age residents, who have fled to job centers in more rural areas. That's left retirees to care for themselves, and those in remote areas will find it more difficult to access services.
The aging population will also have an effect on the state's economy for years to come.
The wave of retirements will likely put a damper on productivity, including job and wage growth. The state will be more dependent on young workers moving from elsewhere to keep the economy growing, said Josh Lehner, a state economist.
"You're losing workers with a lifetime of experience and expertise," Lehner said. "You're losing those really productive workers, but it also could mean plenty of opportunity for growth, for employees moving up the ladder."
There might be less tangible benefits to an aging population, too, said DeLaTorre. There's little known about the affect retirees' lifetime of accumulated wealth can have in a community in the form of charitable contributions, for example.
And the improving health of the aging population means more retirees remain active, perhaps volunteering in their communities.
"We frame aging in this negative, declinist kind of way, but there's a lot of benefits that occur from the aging population," said DeLaTorre. "Older adults are one of the few increasing natural resources we have. How are we able to leverage that?"
(Courtesy of Oregon Live...)