St. Louis, like the rest of the world, is getting older by the minute. Aging always has been the result of staying alive, yet in an overall societal sense, increased longevity and low fertility rates are making the world older and grayer than it’s ever been.
According to the most recent Where We Stand update on seniors and aging, St. Louis does have a high portion of its population over 65, and by most measurements they are faring well – for now. As a percent of the total population aged 65 and older, the St. Louis metro area ranks 8th among the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas, with 14.9 percent of St. Louis at least 65 years old in 2014.
The 12-page Where We Stand update on Seniors and Aging is available on-line at www.ewgateway.org/research-center/where-we-stand.
Over the next 30 years, the 65-and-older segment of the local population will increase by 77 percent, an increase of about 290,000 people. According to projections by the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, by 2045 one out of every four people in the region will be older than 65.
This demographic trend, and what it means for those who live in the St. Louis region will be the topic of a discussion, “St. Louis is Aging: Are We Ready?” from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 4, at the St. Louis Public Library’s Central Library, 1301 Olive.
Panelists and presenters will be Lori Fiegel, of St. Louis County’s Office of Strategy and Innovation; Sheila Holm, of the AARP; Gayle McHenry, of Shepherd’s Center; Jamie Opsal, of Seniors Count of Greater St. Louis; and Mary Rocchio, of East-West Gateway. The moderator will be Yemi Akande-Bartsch, of FOCUS St. Louis.
St. Louis County has an Age-Friendly Community Action Plan in place that is the result of two years of research, analysis, and interaction with the community. The plan focuses on four areas facing seniors: health and well-being, social and civic engagement, mobility and accessibility, and safe and attractive neighborhoods.
Fiegel says keeping those over 65 engaged is fundamental. “The number one reason to get out of bed in the morning is to be with other people,” says Fiegel, adding that participation in health and wellness programs can keep them involved. “Expanded use of technology too, can keep them socially connected.”
Shepherd’s Center is an organization that coordinates volunteers who help older adults with rides, small home repairs, yard work, and other services they need to help them remain in their homes. Gayle McHenry of Shepherd’s Center says transportation is the “number one need” because people want to stay in their own homes and remain “connected to their community.” The older people are, they more they understand how society is changing, McHenry says.
“The older group gets it, they know,” McHenry says. “The baby boomers think they’ll never get old. They think they’ll live forever. Boomers think they are invincible. They think they’ve taken care of themselves.”
Yes, those born between 1946 and 1964 – the baby boomers – are swelling the ranks of the 65-and-overs. The U.S. fertility topped out at 3.7 births per woman in the 1950s, and has dropped to the current 1.9 births per woman. Growing longevity and smaller families translate into an older populace. The baby boomers were just the first wave of the graying of America.
One factor that looms large as longevity increases is affordability. Being able to afford to live longer, where you are accustomed to living, is becoming more difficult.
“You’ll have to be more financially prepared than before, both because more people used to have pensions when they retire than they do now, and more people are living longer,” McHenry says.
For seniors in St. Louis, affordability is one plus.
The Where We Stand research reveals St. Louis seniors, whether they own or rent, fare better than most in other metro areas when it comes to being “housing-cost burdened.” In St. Louis, only 25.1 percent of senior home owners pay 30 percent or more of their income on housing. For renters the ranking is lower, 46th, even though the percentage paid on housing is higher – 51.2 percent.
In New York City, 41.5 percent of senior home owners are housing-cost burdened. For renters, San Jose ranks first with 68.8 percent of seniors paying at least 30 percent of their income on housing.
St. Louis ranks 5th highest in home ownership among seniors, with 81.1 percent of households where seniors live being owner-occupied, with an adult 65 or older as the head of the household. The other 18.9 percent of local seniors rent.
Mary Rocchio of East-West Gateway, says metro areas that are more affordable for seniors can allow more of them to do what they want.
“Almost 90 percent of older adults would rather age in place, live in their own homes,” Rocchio says. “To age in place, you need an affordable place to live.”
Within the St. Louis region, there have been fluctuations among senior populations, with growth in suburban counties, and a decrease in the city of St. Louis. Based on data from the U.S. Census and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Where We Stand update shows the 65-and-older population of the city of St. Louis dropped 26.5 percent from 2000 to 2010, a decrease of 12,667 seniors. That decrease is combination of increases due to people aging into the over-65 cohort and seniors moving into the city, and decreases due to seniors in the city dying, or moving out of the city.
Based on similar dynamics, St. Charles County had a 62.5 percent rise in seniors, or an increase of 15,526. During the same time span, Jefferson County had a 34 percent increase and Monroe County had a 25.9 percent increase. St. Louis County had a 4.3 percent increase.
Nationally, Raleigh had the largest net migration of seniors among the top 50 metros, with an increase of 15.4 percent. St. Louis, as a region, had a 0.1 percent increase. New Orleans, in part due to Hurricane Katrina, had a 12.6 percent decrease, the largest in the nation. The next five metro areas with the largest decline of seniors were New York City, Tampa, San Jose, San Francisco, and Miami.
“The regions that saw an out migration of seniors tend to have a higher cost of living,” Rocchio says.
“St. Louis is Aging: Are We Ready” is co-sponsored by the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, the University of Missouri –St. Louis School of Public Policy and Administration, FOCUS St. Louis, and the St. Louis Public Library. The discussion is from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 4, at the Central Library of the St. Louis Public Library, 1301 Olive St. It is free and open to the public.