California is woefully unprepared for the needs and demands of the “gray wave” of aging baby boomers. The doom and gloom prognostication for our state in which the “senior citizen” population will double within a decade is expressed by several of “California Influencers” convened by The Sacramento Bee and reported in an opinion piece in the paper on July 7.
One group member’s particularly alarming warning declared that unless we face the reality and make significant changes, “California will see generational poverty the likes of we have not seen since the Great Depression.”
Frightening … younger readers might be inclined to think as they consider the monumental burdens required to care for and feed and house “them” — that is, all of those old people. Many healthy, financially secure older people might think this as well.
IDEOLOGY AND REALITY CHECK
For sure, more older adults creates need for more responsive healthcare systems and affordable housing options. Still, these are long overdue concerns that must be resolved for the benefit of people of all ages. If anything, the current generation of older adults are the “canaries in the coal mine” cautioning following generations about the inevitability and unpredictably of the future that awaits them.
There’s a bigger problem, though: Too many so-called influencers attempt to paint a picture of our aging population as a liability and catastrophe — likened to a “silver tsunami” — rather than as an opportunity.
To appreciate our longevity’s full potential, the attitudes and actions of every one of us — particularly top influencers and advocates — must change in two critical ways:
- We must acknowledge aging is all-inclusive; that growing older is about us, not them; and that the longevity experience is relative, not defining. Older adults should not be positioned as a special interest competing for attention, support and funding. This approach is both divisive and ageist. And counterintuitive considering the desire for healthy, purposeful, longer life is truly universal and ageless.
- As much as aging creates challenges, there is good reason to refer to our extended life expectancy as the “longevity dividend.” A population with more experience and experiences provides unprecedented social and economic opportunities. We need to remind ourselves of the valuable lesson we learned as children: It is important to share. We must learn to share resources; jobs and workplaces; living space; education; public services, spaces and transportation; healthcare and caregiving; and the most treasured commodity of all — time.
At least one of the “California Influencers” quoted in The Bee article shares a more positive outlook for our longevity, suggesting we learn to “focus on empowerment rather than frailty” and to not consider older adults a drain on society “but rather an opportunity …”