What lies ahead?

are boomers really prepared for changes ahead in health care, housing and financES?

Author: Deborah J. Botti
Posted: Saturday, December 01, 2007
If Baby Boomers in the Hudson Valley were to look into a crystal ball right now, what would they see? It’s anyone’s guess. Various community and state organizations are studying the Boomer phenomenon and what effect this aging population will have on local and state resources. How will our local workforce be affected as more of us retire? How will our healthcare systems handle a potentially heavier caseload? How will our financial, home and personal lives be affected?

While there are no definitive answers to these questions yet, local experts weigh in on what Boomers can expected in the years to come.

“The Boomers are bringing to light aging as a phenomenon,” says Jennifer Rosenbaum, a senior policy analyst with the New York State Office for the Aging. Among the agency’s priorities over the past couple of years has been preparing for the changing needs of an aging society, as well as the opportunities this brings. “Our perceptions of aging and of aging well are changing in New York, the country and the world.”

“We can no longer look at aging as just bigger numbers of old people,” agrees her colleague Vera Prosper, Ph.D., who is also a senior policy analyst. “Elements of population and social change are highly interactive. The impact of aging is interconnected with the impacts of several other significant demographic changes.”

Prosper points to the farming community as an example. In the past, farms would be handed down to the younger generation, who also assumed caregiver tasks for their aging parents. That’s not happening today. A major migration pattern is the movement out of rural areas by young adults. The farms are being sold to developers. Not only is there now the question of how mom and dad are being cared for, but what are the impacts on schools, the labor force and local economies?

Today, people age 60 and older account for 17 percent of the Hudson Valley's population, says Ann Striphas, vice president of marketing, sales and public relations for the Elant Network.

“The 50- to 69-year-old age group is projected by 2015 to grow 20 percent,” says Striphas, bringing that age group to 40 percent of the populations of Orange, Ulster, Sullivan and Dutchess counties, based on figures from American FactFinder. And that doesn’t include the 69- to 85-year-old group.

“When I thought of ‘60,’ it was old,” says Ann Cardinale, director of the Ulster County Office for the Aging, who is also a registered nurse and geriatric specialist. “At that age, my parents were struggling with health issues. Today, we’re more informed, educated and prepared.”

But not all Boomers are prepared. “The Boomers who have received most of the media attention tend to be healthier and more financially viable,” says Prosper, adding that this can skew perceptions.

Changes within the financial realm
Between Boomers reaching the pinnacle of their careers and receiving inheritances, they’ll be in control of a preponderance of available cash over the next decade. That opens doors to savvy entrepreneurs from financial planners to personal trainers to provide goods and services.

For those affluent Boomers with meaty pensions, and substantial savings and investments, retirement isn’t about “how” but “when.”

For many, though, the thought of life without generating income is frightening. And how do you even go about figuring out how much money you need?

The experts certainly advise that Boomers talk well in advance about their specific situations with financial planners and lawyers specializing in elder law. However, according to Transitions, the Eldercare Resource Guide to the Hudson Valley, a publication of Elant (and available at www.elant.org), a retiree will need 70 to 80 percent of his current income to live a similar lifestyle. To determine what the projected income will be, add Social Security plus pensions and 4-6 percent of savings.

It’s never too late to plan for the future. If you’ve made the mistake of depending on Social Security, consider working longer, getting a reverse mortgage or selling your home to downsize and invest the profits, suggests Transitions. Long-term health care insurance should also be investigated.

Some simple, sage advice from financial experts? “Save more and spend less,” says Glenn Wassermann, a senior vice president at Orange County Trust Company in Middletown, who has an expertise in trust and estate administration. “We’re a shopping society. No matter how high the gas prices or how poor a job status, the malls are always filled.”

While economic trends are cyclical, Wassermann says they’re seeing increased foreclosures as a result of people not buying pursuant to their economic comfort level. These events have a ripple effect that impacts all age groups, as seen in the recent closing of many mortgage companies and the erosion in the value of real estate. Couple this with a lack of high-paying jobs in the area and there could be some economic instability over the next few years.

“Be conservative,” he says. “And make it a goal to save 10 percent of your income.”

What may happen in the workforce
Statistics indicate that people are living longer, and that means Boomers will be working longer – some because they want to, others because they have to. But, when Boomers retire within the next 10 or 20 years, that exodus will likely hurt the American workforce.

“With the retirement of the Boomers, there will be huge gaps in the numbers of nurses, teachers and physicians,” adds Rosenbaum of New York State Office for the Aging. “We will need to look toward non-traditional pools to fill those labor gaps, and one of these pools is older workers. We need to modify the work environment, career paths, pension policies, training programs and other things if we want to attract and make the best use [of the senior labor pool],” says Rosenbaum.

Cardinale envisions tapping into the civic-mindedness of the recent retirees who are enjoying healthier and more active lifestyles. “We’re looking at attracting retirees to volunteerism,” says Cardinale. “Carve up Ulster County, say, and have one group of neighbors helping other neighbors, 65-year-olds helping 85-year-olds.”
However, volunteerism alone won't solve the shortage of health-care workers. “We still have to figure out how to attract young people to work in the [health-care] field. Workforce shortage is just about as critical an issue as financing,” says Carl S. Young, president of the New York Association of Homes and Services for the Aging.

Lower-level entry health care positions are often filled by immigrants, say Rosenbaum and
Prosper. “The elderly population today is not as racially and ethnically diverse as the younger population, but diversity among all population groups will increase dramatically over the coming years,” says Prosper.

American FactFinder statistics indicate that anywhere from 10 to 21 percent of Hudson Valley households, depending on county, speak a language at home other than English. This trend, then, raises a basic question about job training and how to facilitate, for example, Hispanics caring for Asians.

Will Boomers stay in the Hudson Valley?
There’s no doubt, the experts agree, the Boomers will want to remain in their homes as long as possible. Some Boomers will downsize and move into one of the many housing options available. They might choose a smaller home or condo, a 55-plus complex, or a continuing-care community, which offers everything from independent apartments to assisted living to skilled nursing under one roof (coupled with financial incentives such as a cap on skilled nursing fees and a refund of a portion of
the entrance fee to the Boomer’s estate).

Just as the Boomers have been credited with the creation of the suburban lifestyle, Rosenbaum believes they’ll once again be credited for making waves – and vital changes – in housing.

A significant trend in New York, say the Office for the Aging experts, is that even if a retiree leaves for parts of the South because of weather or lower taxes, many return when they hit their 80s to be closer to family.

 This is where zoning changes will come into play, says Prosper, to allow add-on apartments or an elder cottage on the adult child’s property, or to provide for an assisted-living facility in a residential area so the caregivers don’t have to travel long distances to see their parents.

And what about a custodial grandparent who has to move from her senior housing because she’s now responsible for her grandson – but can't afford to?

Affordable housing in general for middle-income Boomers is a concern, says Prosper, citing the recent surge in housing prices and taxes that have also caused rental prices to soar.

“We are going to need more independent housing, especially housing into which home-care services can be brought, and more non-nursing-home service infrastructure. To be sure, we will continue to need nursing-home service, too, but policies at all governmental levels have been over-focused on nursing homes,” says Young of the Association of Homes & Services for the Aging.

“Someone who today needs a nursing home, 10 to 15 years down the road will be allowed to stay at home,” says Elant’s Striphas, thanks not only to shifts in attitude, shifts in the types of care available, and advances in technology.

The outlook on health care
The first step in health care is a healthy lifestyle. Proper nutrition and exercise are the keys to stemming the obesity epidemic, which spans all age groups and is linked to a number of preventable health issues such as hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.

“I want to be active, dancing and socializing, and involved in government on a grassroots level,” says Cardinale, and believes many share her outlook.

But what about when illness strikes? That’s where health insurance kicks in. “And the uninsured go to the hospital, so it’s costing us more,” says Prosper. “We need to look at different, creative solutions for addressing health care.”

Medicare provides insurance to individuals age 65 and older. There are different types of Medicare and supplemental insurance options. Your local Office for the Aging is a good resource for specific questions.
At today’s rates, nursing-home care can reach upwards of $82,000 a year, says Cardinale of the Ulster County Office for the Aging. Yet, most are operating at a loss, says Young.

And someone can also spend $2,000 a week for round-the-clock nursing care, according to Transitions. When there are no assets left, today an individual can apply for Medicaid funding to pick up the costs. But how will these skyrocketing costs be paid 20 years from now?

That’s where the crystal ball is really murky; no one is completely certain.

“Things need to be fixed,” says Cardinale. “There’s a lot going on at the state level. Rethinking, redesigning. It’s great for me to be involved in this because I’m laying down the foundation for my future.”


Deborah Botti is a freelance writer living in Orange County. Her work frequently appears in Hudson Valley Life magazine.

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