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Just in time for Older Americans Month: 2020 Profile of Older Americans

May 27, 2021
Alison Barkoff, Acting Administrator and Assistant Secretary for Aging

Each year during Older Americans Month, we celebrate the vital contributions of the older adults whose knowledge, expertise, and talents make our communities stronger. We also celebrate the aging services network that works in every community across the country to empower older people to live independently, remain engaged, and participate in community life.

As part of our celebration of Older Americans Month, today we are publishing our annual Profile of Older Americans report, which sheds light on the demographics and experiences of older adults living in the community. Most of the report is based on information from 2019 (the most recent year from which we have complete data), but it also pulls data from a variety of sources to look at the catastrophic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on older Americans.

For example, the report captures the mental health toll of the pandemic on older Americans, especially toward the end of 2020, with people over the age of 80 reporting the largest increase in symptoms of anxiety and depression. Unemployment increased, and workforce participation decreased, for older adults during the pandemic. Most staggering, nearly 80% of those we have lost to COVID-19 have been older adults.

Older adults have persevered through the disproportionate challenges they have faced during the pandemic, and they have played an important role in helping our nation weather this crisis. The aging services network has been nothing short of heroic throughout the pandemic, as well. On the front lines of a national health crisis, the network put themselves at risk, formed new partnerships, and developed new ways to deliver services in order to meet ever-increasing needs for services. Across the country, the aging network has been helping older adults get vaccinated, developing innovative programs to combat social isolation, ensuring that the voices of older adults are heard by local leaders, and so much more.

As we consider the last 16 months, example after example illustrates that older adults, and the aging services network, are crucial to keeping our nation strong. This year’s theme for Older Americans Month is “Communities of Strength,” and it is clear that we could not have chosen better.  

As vaccination numbers increase, we can see glimpses of life returning to normal. As we look forward to older adults being able to safely resume their important roles in families and communities, and as we work to build back better, we have an unprecedented opportunity to strengthen the programs and systems that help older adults stay active and connected in the community. We have an opportunity to advance policies that increase access to home and community-based services and to better support, and value, family caregivers and direct support professionals. And we are seizing those opportunities. 

The American Rescue Plan included $1.4 billion in additional funding for Older Americans Act programs, as well as $12.7 billion in additional funding to states for Medicaid home and community-based services that help people with disabilities of all ages avoid nursing homes and other institutions. And ACL has partnered with CDC to provide $100 million in funding for the disability and aging networks to promote vaccine access.

In addition to the impact of COVID-19, the Profile illustrates that older Americans are a diverse population that is growing even more diverse. In 2019, nearly one in four older Americans identified as a racial or ethnic minority. We know that diversity of experiences is one of the great sources of a community’s strength. We also know that people from racial and ethnic minority populations often are marginalized and face disproportionate financial hardships, and this year’s Profile reflects that reality. Among older adults, 18% of African Americans, 17.1% of Hispanic Americans, and 9.7% of Asian Americans lived in poverty, compared with 6.8% of non-Hispanic white Americans. And the median annual income of older women was more than $15,000 less than that of older men.

Populations who face multiple forms of marginalization can face even higher rates of poverty. For example, almost a third of older Black and Hispanic women who lived alone experienced poverty. We also have witnessed the devastating consequences of inequity over the past year as communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s why ACL, and the entire administration, are committed to addressing these long-standing disparities and building a commitment to equity into every aspect of our work and advocacy.

Finally, as it does every year, this year’s Profile reinforces the importance of the work we all do together to support the health and independence of older people.

  • More than 40% of the baby boomers are now 65 and older, and the total number of older adults has increased by 36% in the last ten years. By 2040, that number is expected to grow by nearly 50% more.
  • The overwhelming majority of older adults live in the community -- only about 2% of people over the age of 64 live in nursing homes.
  • Most have at least one chronic health condition, and many have more than one.
  • Nearly 20% reported that they had a lot of difficulty with seeing, hearing, mobility, communication, cognition, and/or self-care.
  • While many receive support from family and other informal caregivers, this year’s Profile shows that many also are caregivers themselves – more than one million grandparents ages 60 and older were responsible for the basic needs of at least one grandchild under the age of 18.

That’s why we are working so hard to expand and improve our country’s system of providing the support people need to live independently, participate in communities, and maintain economic self-sufficiency. And it’s why I am so excited by the possibilities offered by the American Jobs Plan, which includes an investment of $400 billion to expand the services that make community living possible and to support well-paying jobs with benefits for the workforce that provides that direct care. 

I hope you will take a moment to read through this year’s Profile of Older Americans, and I encourage everyone in our networks to consider how the data can inform and advance our advocacy for older adults, and for continuing to build and support communities of strength. 

Last modified on 06/02/2021

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