Years track ever onward, lucky for me, but I can’t help but notice an older version of this familiar face staring back from the mirror.
Yikes! Where did the teenager go, the one still in my head, the guy without worry lines and bags under his eyes?
History records that the wayfaring Spaniard Juan Ponce de Leon heard from indigenous Caribbean people that a fountain of youth existed on another island, and off he went in search of it.
Maybe the natives just wanted to get rid of the guy. In any case, he steered his ship to a coast of what would be, centuries in the future, a place renown for its attraction to retirees.
I understand the desires of Ponce de Leon, and Florida proved a nice enough consolation prize. The fountain of youth, though, offers no wellspring, and all living souls proceed along much the same path.
Again, I’m not complaining about my place in this. “Let everything that has breath give praise to the Lord,” celebrates the Psalm. But demographers have had a devil of a time as they consider the aging of Americans.
Two related sorts of reports have made the rounds in recent years. One type speaks to the graying of our population.
Between 1946 and 1964, the United States experienced what came to be known as the post-war baby boom. Steeled by hard times, men and women came out of the Great Depression and World War II and did what came naturally.
This generation, buoyed by the GI Bill of Rights, saw opportunity after years of privation, and families grew as a result. Americans had more than 76 million babies in just short of two decades. I was one of those babies.
For years, however, American birth rates have declined. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of births in 2017 for American women ages 15 to 44 was the lowest since the government started tracking birth rates in 1909.
This leads into the second type of report.
Members of the millennial generation, born between 1981 and 1996, have been hesitant to jump into the baby-making business. This phenomenon has launched multiple theories – economic uncertainty, student loans, later marriages, different worldviews – on which researchers can chew.
The U.S. Census Bureau looks toward 2035 as a milestone for the nation’s population. In that year, the number of Americans age 65 and older will for the first time outnumber Americans under age 18.
Board members of the St. Joseph School District met recently to talk about demographics and future facility needs. Some variation of this probably entered the discussion.
If the local population holds with the national trend, with the younger population group up about 4 percent and the older one climbing by more than 59 percent, St. Joseph will in 2035 have just 900 more school-age kids than people of retirement age. (The current spread is about 6,800.)
This means much for the schools, just 16 years in the future, but also for the services that the community will need for its increasing population of older citizens.
More health-care providers. More home-care helpers. More assisted-living facilities. More memory-care units.
If these projections and the population hold, St. Joseph will have almost 18,000 residents age 65 and older in 2035. That’s 23 percent of the people here, up from 14 percent now.
Different scenarios could play out for this city, some for good and some for ill. But the numbers speak about this current direction, and it seems essential to prepare for what those numbers portend.