Erie County getting older
Dec 10, 2013 at 2:30 PM
Many elderly residents flock to Florida when they enter their golden years.
But apparently in Erie County, most seniors stick around the north coast as opposed to the Gulf Coast.
Almost one out of every five Erie County residents is at least 65 years old. At 18.3 percent, Erie County’s senior population rate exceeds totals in Ohio and the U.S., according to a Register analysis of recently released U.S. Census data estimates.
Erie County’s aging population
• The average populations of the U.S., Ohio and even Erie County is collectively getting older as time goes on.
• Almost one out of every five Erie County residents is at least 65 years old.
• Many elderly residents didn’t expect to live so long and don’t have the financial resources to pay for health expenses and other costs.
The 18.3 percent equates to about 14,000 Erie County residents who are 65 or older. Furthermore, more people are living longer now than ever before.
Case in point: Erie County’s 65-plus population accounted for 15.6 percent of all residents in 2000 and 17.2 percent in 2010.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report states people, in general, are living longer because they’re avoiding four health-risk behaviors: lack of physical activity, poor nutrition, tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption.
Social Security estimates show a man reaching 65 today can expect to live, on average, until 84. A woman reaching 65 today can expect to live, on average, until 86. Both estimates are record highs.
Erie County officials and business leaders must prepare for the area’s aging future based on these figures and trends, according to two experts.
But the two experts — one concentrating on geography and another specializing in senior citizen independence — differ on how area representatives must adjust to Erie County’s elderly population.
Area officials and business leaders can embrace its older population but must realize they also need younger people to sustain long-term growth, said Michael Kimaid, a BGSU Firelands associate professor of history and geography.
“A large youth population drives investment in education, parks and other community-oriented institutions, all of which raise the qualify of life of a particular place” Kimaid said.
They should also consider devoting resources to amenities typically drawing younger people, Kimaid added, including:
• Strong school systems.
• Vast recreational trail offerings, consisting of sidewalks and bike paths.
• Comprehensive public transit services.
• Warm climates to entice and keep locally owned businesses and the arts. q Efforts to promote green or sustainable energy and recycling. “Every community in the U.S. with growing populations takes these as givens,” Kimaid said. “Erie County should as well”
The data shows a trend of Erie County’s older population ballooning, said Sue Daugherty, Serving Our Seniors executive director. But many senior citizens today didn’t expect to live so long, resulting in many failing to comfortably plan their fiscal future.
“I don’t know that anyone saved money to support himself or herself to live an additional 30 years after retirement,” Daugherty said. “Nor has anyone expected the cost of health care to increase as it has” Daugherty backed up her point by adding:
• The cost a Medicare consumer pays on the Part B plan totaled $28 per month in 1996 versus $105 a month today — a 275 percent increase in just 17 years.
• About one-third of all senior citizens in Erie County pay the minimum on their credit card bills.
• The average area senior citizen homeowner has only $2,000 to spend if an emergency occurs in or around his or her house, such as a warped roof or faulty furnace.
• About 29 percent of seniors surveyed in 2012 said they still have a mortgage on their home. Of this group, only 14.6 percent will have it paid off before they retire.
These factors are driving seniors out of their homes, or making it nearly impossible for people on fixed or limited incomes to afford their houses.
Area officials, then, must address an issue plaguing a large segment of Erie County’s population, Daugherty said.
“Communities need to plan for more affordable rental housing,” Daugherty said. “A growing proportion of this (aging) population will need modest rental housing and built-in walking distances to the places they need to go, such as the doctor’s office, drug store, grocery store or a social outlet”
One such project occurring involves an $8 million private investment makeover at the former Rieger Hotel property in downtown Sandusky.
The plan calls for creating 37 individual apartments for senior citizens, with the most expensive pad costing about $600 per month.
Many of the apartments geared for seniors — completely different than nursing homes or assisted living — in this area are already filled to capacity with several names on waiting lists.
And there’s a great need for them: Local studies concluded the area’s senior citizen count should inflate to roughly 26,000 people in seven years, accounting for one-third of Erie County’s total population. About 77,000 people live in Erie County today.
“We need rental housing targeted toward the price range of retirees” Daugherty said.
An older population actually benefits the entire community, Daugherty argues.
“Having more people of older age who are healthier means there are more people in the community who are in a position to contribute their time, skills and knowledge to create a better community,” Daugherty said. “The trick will be for each entity — schools, hospitals, social service organizations, for example — to figure out what it is they can do to capture the interest of the healthy retiree to use their time and abilities for the purposes of making their community a better place to live”
Serving Our Seniors is Erie County’s leading organization to help older residents maintain their independence. A voter-approved levy funnels about $1 million into the organization’s coffers annually.
Officials from the nonprofit, for instance, transport residents to medical appointments, install handicap-accessible ramps and provide some medicines at reduced rates.