Thursday, August 7, 2008

Population Old, But Not That Old

Allegheny County’s population is older than average, but it’s nowhere near the oldest in the country, according to new figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. That distinction belongs to La Paz County, Arizona, where 32 percent of the population is 65 or older. In Allegheny County, it’s less than 17 percent. And that figure has been dropping in recent years, although it’s expected to begin rising again soon.

Allegheny County’s Area Agency on Aging follows population trends in order to plan for future needs. Deputy Director Mildred Morrison says one of the biggest trends has been a rise in what’s called the “old old” population, or people aged 85 or older. Morrison says several factors are making that age group increasingly vulnerable to poverty. One is that people are living longer. Another is that traditional fixed pensions are failing to keep up with the cost of living. Finally, more seniors are retiring with 401(k)-type plans, which are less stable than fixed pensions.

Morrison says her agency is trying to respond to these growing trends by educating more seniors and their families on the financial challenges they might face, and by connecting them with aid like subsidized housing, food stamps and utility assistance.

Morrison says because of the out-migration associated with the collapse of the steel industry, Allegheny County has built up years of experience addressing the needs of an aging population. So the county may be better prepared than other parts of the country for an anticipated spike in the senior population in the next few years.

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