Elderly

The number of elderly in the population has importance for private and public pension programs, for health care, and for a host of services related to aging and retirement. As the population ages, the maintenance of the real level of public services to the elderly can impose an ever-increasing tax burden on future generations. The nation will face two unattractive alternatives: either the elderly will receive less public services and suffer a decline in their standard of living, or future generations must draw down their resources to maintain that standard of living.

Unlike that in the population at younger ages, future change in the population aged 65 years and older is known with a fair degree of certainty because persons reaching this age in the projection period have either already been born in the United States or will be survivors among future immigrants. This population will grow rapidly in the coming years, both in numbers and as a proportion of the total population. It stood at 33.6 million in 1995, and could double—from 73.0 to 80.6 million, depending on the net immigration assumptions. Under the medium assumption, the elderly population will rise to 39.1 million in 2010, then will increase steadily as the baby-boom cohort begins to reach age 65 in large numbers. It will grow to 53.0 million in 2020 and, by 2050, to 76.8 million.37 Although the impact of immigration on the size of the elderly population is not trivial, it certainly plays only a supporting role. No immigration policy, no matter how restrictive, can reverse the underlying trend. The big news, therefore, over the next half-century is the guaranteed substantial growth in the number of people past age 65—the size of that population is likely to double.

The ''oldest-old" (those over 85) represent an important age group because they have the highest rates of hospitalization and nursing home use, factors that are forces driving health care costs. Variations in immigration, however, do not account for substantial differences in the size of the population aged 85 years and older. Under the medium net immigration assumption, the oldest-old age group will increase from 3.6 million in 1995 to 17.7 million in 2050 (a fourfold increase). Assuming the low and high net immigration levels provides a range for this age group of 17.4 to 18.1 million.38 Although the oldest-old population will expand greatly during the next half-century, immigration will have little effect on its size. People who will be over age 85 in 2050 are at least 32 years old

37  

Under the zero net immigration assumption, the population aged 65 years and older will reach 69.1 million in 2050. Under the very high net immigration assumption, the elderly population will increase to 84.4 million in 2050.

38  

Under zero net immigration, the population aged 85 years and older will increase to 17.1 million in 2050. Under the very high net immigration assumption, the oldest-old will reach a level of 18.4 million in 2050.



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