With seniors living longer and more active lives, and with more than 77 million baby boomers turning 65 at a rate of 10,000 per day, the United States is experiencing historic growth in the 65-plus demographic. This growth is pressing communities to think differently and more broadly about a whole host of issues: housing, transportation, social services, cultural offerings, and health and wellness programs, to name just a few. The ultimate question is: Are we as individuals and communities in Milwaukee ready for an aging population?
To examine this question, the National Council on Aging (NCOA), UnitedHealthcare and USA Today created The United States of Aging Survey. In its inaugural year, the survey included a nationally representative sample of 1,000 Americans aged 60 and older, and oversamples of 250 respondents in Milwaukee, upstate New York, Miami, Dallas and Orange County, Calif., who shared their perspectives on their own individual readiness for aging as well as their perceptions of their community’s resources for senior residents.
Older Americans in Milwaukee have mixed feelings about their finances, and for some, the long-term prospects are unclear.
Although the majority of older Milwaukeeans sampled (67 percent) report that it is very or somewhat easy to pay their monthly living expenses now, 23 percent are not confident that their income will be sufficient to pay the bills over the next five to 10 years.
When it comes to retirement savings, 18 percent of local seniors are either not confident in, or do not have, a financial plan for their retirement years.
Still, if an accident or unexpected medical issue were to occur, 83 percent of seniors in Milwaukee believe they would be able to pay the associated expenses. That’s significantly higher than the national average of 71 percent, and the highest of all markets sampled.
Compared to national figures, Milwaukeeans voiced high levels of confidence in their ability to afford their Medicare premiums, deductibles and copays in future years (69 percent locally, versus 61 percent nationally).
Still, close to one-third (29 percent) of respondents reported that they are not confident that they know about all of the government benefits that are available to help meet their needs.
Almost one in five seniors (20 percent) in Milwaukee are employed either full or part time.
Fifty-nine percent of these individuals reported that they are working for economic reasons, compared with 69 percent nationally. Productivity (75 percent) and the desire to stay involved with other people (66 percent) are the leading reasons they are in the workforce.
About a third of respondents (32 percent) believe that their community offers enough job opportunities for older residents.
Milwaukee seniors are not only receiving long-term care – they are providing it, too.
Forty-three percent of Milwaukee seniors report having someone they consider to be a caregiver in their lives, lower than the national average of 50 percent. Approximately one in four local seniors (24 percent) serves as a caregiver for someone else.
Eighty-three percent of older Milwaukeeans with caregivers say they are being cared for by a family member. Nearly half of those caregivers (48 percent) live at home with a senior.
More than a third of seniors (36 percent) living independently believe it is likely that they will need one of their children or grandchildren to care for them in the future.
Forty-three percent of respondents who serve as a caregiver for someone else report that they would benefit from additional support services, like respite care.
While 65 percent of these caregivers are aware that there is a service in their community that they could call to request assistance with everyday needs, only 14 percent say they have utilized that service. Aging in Place
Older Americans in Milwaukee are striving to “age in place,” despite physical and economic difficulties in some cases.
Eighty-three percent of local seniors intend to continue living in their current home over the next five to 10 years – lower than the national average of 90 percent.
Leading reasons for wanting to stay include liking where they currently live (88 percent) and having family and friends nearby (66 percent).
Finances also play a large role in this decision: 30 percent of Milwaukee seniors planning to age in place say their home would not sell in the current market, and 18 percent believe they cannot afford the cost of moving their belongings.
The vast majority of local individuals (84 percent) report high levels of confidence that they will be able to stay in their homes without having to make any significant home modifications.
Twelve percent of respondents in Milwaukee believe the housing options available to them are unaffordable.
Community Resources and Support
Milwaukee seniors have a mixed view of community resources for aging boomers.
In line with national numbers, 47 percent of older Milwaukee residents believe that their community supports their ability to lead a happy and healthy life.
More than half (59 percent) of those surveyed report that they are satisfied with the resources and services their community offers now.
More than two in 10 (22 percent) have little or no confidence that these resources will be available over the next five to 10 years.
Additionally, almost half (48 percent) of older Milwaukeeans say they don’t visit senior and community centers in their region enough to have an opinion on the quality of the programming and events available.
When asked what community characteristics would help them to lead a happy and healthy life, local seniors listed a walkable community as their top choice (46 percent). More than half of seniors (51 percent) say they never walk to places they regularly go.
Just over a quarter of respondents (27 percent) do not believe that high-quality transportation services are currently available to them.
Health and Wellness
Older Americans in Milwaukee are optimistic about their future and say they are healthier than ever.
Eighty percent of local seniors expect their quality of life to stay the same or get better overthe next five to 10 years – 5 percentage points higher than the national average.
More than two-thirds of Milwaukee’s seniors (67 percent) report that the past year of their life was normal or better than normal, slightly higher than the 65 percent at the national level.
Similar to the national numbers, a large majority of older Milwaukeeans give themselves high marks when it comes to maintaining their physical and mental health: 93 percent report that they manage their stress levels well, and 87 percent say that they are confident that they will be able to do what is needed to maintain their health over the next five to 10 years.
If they were in need of medical care, 96 percent of respondents say that they would be able to see a primary care physician in their community, while 59 percent believe they would be able to see a geriatric care physician.
More than nine in 10 local seniors (95 percent) report that they communicate well with their doctors regarding their health questions and concerns.
Eighty-four percent of older Americans in Milwaukee remain confident in their ability to manage health conditions on their own, reducing their need to see a doctor – greater than the national average (80 percent).
To access national population and full Milwaukee survey findings, as well as results for seniors in upstate New York, Dallas, Miami and Orange County, visit www.ncoa.org/UnitedStatesofAging or the newsroom at www.UnitedHealthGroup.com.