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Where Are Local Governments Prioritizing Their Elders?

The median age in the United States is on the rise, caused in large part by the rapid growth of the country’s 65+ population from 2010 to 2019 (U.S. Census). As the baby boomer generation ages, local governments are facing a wave of retirements internally (Forbes). Population aging also means that it is increasingly incumbent upon local governments to consider the needs of older adults within their communities. To understand how local policymakers are viewing this paradigm shift, CivicPulse surveyed 241 elected policymakers nationwide and found that Southern communities are the most likely to seek to be known as age-friendly and are the most likely to report rating the needs of elders as a high priority. 

Using the U.S. Census’ regional divisions, our survey suggests that local governments in the South are more likely to report seeking to serve older residents than any other region. Asked how much their jurisdiction prioritizes the needs of older residents--on a 5-point scale from “Not a Priority at All” up to “Very High Priority”--66% of Southern respondents indicated that the needs of the elder population were at least a high priority, compared to approximately 50% in the other three regions. In addition, 89% of the Southern respondents indicated their communities sought to be known as “age-friendly,” compared to 75%-79% of respondents in the other three regions.

In addition to differences by region, there were also slight differences when comparing government type. 53% of both municipality and township officials stated that the needs of older residents were a high or very high priority while the county proportion was slightly higher at 63%. However, this discrepancy may be explained by the differing services that counties provide compared to other local governments that may be more critical to older residents, such as the administration of public health services.

These findings offer insight into the degree to which policymakers view their jurisdictions as seeking to be responsive to the needs of an aging population. Policymakers in the South, which has the second-highest proportion of senior residents and the second-highest percent growth in its 65+ population from 2010 to 2019 (Census), report that they are already prioritizing a growing senior population. Policymakers in the West, which has the lowest proportion of 65+ residents but has had the highest growth from 2010 to 2019 (Census), are preparing to serve the unique needs of older Americans by prioritizing those services now. The current survey results show that a slight majority of local governments nationwide believe that the needs of older residents are a high priority, but it is unclear if and how the share of governments with this priority will increase to match the growth of the older population nationally and across each region.


Survey Background

The research underlying this blog was built on data from a national random-sample survey of 241 local policymakers, fielded from September 2021 to November 2021. The sample frame draws on Power Almanac’s continuously updated contact list of government officials from counties, municipalities, and townships with populations of 1,000 or more. The results reported in this blog are calculated using the unweighted survey responses. The survey was constructed and managed jointly by CivicPulse and Jacqueline Chattopadhyay. Below is the survey question used to craft the figure:

In your view, how much does your jurisdiction prioritize each of the following policy goals?

Columns: Support economic development; Reduce income inequality; Support the needs of older residents; Reduce crime; Address infrastructure challenges; Address environmental challenges

Answer choices: Very High Priority; High Priority; Medium Priority; Low Priority; Not a Priority At All

References

https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2020/65-older-population-grows.html

https://www.census.gov/library/visualizations/2020/comm/map-popest-65-and-older.html

https://www.forbes.com/sites/sarazeffgeber/2020/11/28/the-new-silver-tsunami/?sh=46294dfa6d69

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