How Is California Preparing For The Shift To An Older Population?

Your 1+1 Team
September 1, 2023

With California’s population steadily growing older, the state faces a pressing need to address the various challenges and opportunities that come with this demographic shift. The Bay Area, in particular, is dealing with the stark reality that many seniors are already struggling to make ends meet, and this issue is bound to worsen as the population of people aged 65 and above continues to grow. This demographic transformation pushes pressure on limited resources and exposes the inadequacies of housing, employment, transportation, and healthcare infrastructure.

This isn’t just a local concern; it’s a global phenomenon. The World Health Organization forecasts that the worldwide population aged 65 and above will surge from 524 million in 2010 to nearly 1.5 billion in 2050. In California, the population of seniors is projected to increase by two-thirds over the next two decades, a trend that is even more pronounced than the global average.

Looking ahead to 2052, the state’s Department of Finance’s Demographic Research Unit estimates that individuals aged 65 and above will constitute nearly 26% of California’s total population. However, without substantial investment in strategic planning, the future for many older Californians appears bleak.

The Challenges of an Aging Society

California is already grappling with an emerging retirement crisis since a significant portion of its population edges toward the age of 65 and beyond. Data from 2016 revealed that almost half of all U.S. households led by individuals over 55 had no retirement savings. A report from the UC Berkeley Labor Center in 2015 highlighted the unpreparedness of aging workers for retirement, predicting that California seniors would struggle to afford even fundamental necessities such as housing and healthcare.

The housing problem is especially complex within the state, tightly linked to its high cost of living. Unstable housing situations are increasing health challenges, particularly those associated with mobility and cognitive decline. Shockingly, the over-50 demographic is currently the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population in many parts of California.
The California Elder Index, formulated by UCLA’s School of Public Health, quantifies the cost of basic living expenses for seniors. According to the 2015 Elder Index report, 46.5% of single elderly individuals in California couldn’t afford the basic cost of living. For renters, this number rises even higher with 65.8% of single elders falling short of basic needs.

Moreover, seniors of color face an even more alarming reality. This group, expected to constitute over half of California’s seniors by 2035, experiences poverty rates twice as high as their white counterparts. The UC Berkeley Labor Center found that seniors of color have roughly half the income of white seniors in California. Many lack access to retirement preparation systems like employer-provided retirement plans, rendering them susceptible to financial instability with any unexpected expense.

Planning for an Aging Future

In anticipation of these demographic shifts, California is channeling resources and effort toward both proactive preparation and current support for seniors facing these challenges. These trends have been on the radar of state planners for some time.

Governor Gavin Newsom took a significant step in 2019 by issuing an executive order that set the wheels in motion for a Master Plan for Aging. This comprehensive blueprint sets out objectives and strategies for public agencies and private organizations to address the concerns brought on by an aging population. The aim is to establish a “California for All Ages” by 2030.

The Master Plan for Aging’s cornerstone comprises five core goals supported by 23 strategies and 123 initiatives for 2021-2022:

  • Housing for All Stages & Ages: The plan advocates for versatile living options, focusing on age-friendly, disability-friendly, and climate-prepared communities.
  • Health Reimagined: This goal aims to close the wealth gap and extend life expectancy by providing accessible healthcare services and healthy communities, addressing systemic disparities.
  • Inclusion & Equity, Not Isolation: The focus here is on creating a vibrant community for older Californians while protecting them from isolation, discrimination, abuse, neglect, and exploitation.
  • Caregiving That Works: Recognizing the impending surge in seniors, this goal targets a million high-quality caregiving jobs, acknowledging the contributions of family caregivers as well.
  • Affording Aging: This encompasses the broad notion of financial well-being for seniors and integrates many metrics from the previous goals.

While the Master Plan presents a roadmap, its full realization is a formidable challenge. Early-stage initiatives have shown promise, but success will depend on collaborative efforts, funding, and sustained commitment from various stakeholders.

In the end, California’s journey towards becoming the nation’s most age- and disability-friendly state is far from straightforward. However, the Master Plan for Aging does offer a glimmer of hope, provided it undergoes revision, secures diverse stakeholder involvement, and secures the necessary funding.

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