The “Greying of America”, refers to the endurance in our seniors which is tugging on all the resources in our society. People are living longer healthier lives. This is a good thing and a bad thing. Are we ready to meet these demands on our society in the long term? Some believe this will be a financial burden on Medicare, long-term care, public pensions and financial programs.The aging population has multiple facets; including the financial, physical, emotional, and psychologicalneeds represented in society. There is increased question if our Social Security and Medicare System will hold out to care for this generation.How will supply and demand be met when there are fewer in the work force? How will the money in Social Security System last, when less is being put in? “A large population of the United States is old and non-working. Almost 24 percent of the population in US is over 50 years old.” http://www.naswdc.org/pressroom/features/issue/aging.asp
Officials refer to this changing time in our history as the “Greying of America”.
For a long time over population was stated in our country and others, like China. One child in China and in the United States two children were plenty, now, it seems the baby boomer generation will be the largest demographic, the older generation. Some of the baby boomers have already reached this time in their lives. Baby Boomers were born in the years 1946 to 1964. If you do the math those born in 1946 are now 67, which is retirement age or it was. Retirement age used to be 65, but as the demands on our economy, so the retirement age is pushed back. Some say 72 is the new retirement age.“Statistics project that by 2030, Americans 65 and older will actually outnumber their younger counterparts. With the aging of the “baby boomer” generation and the lengthening of life spans, both the number and proportion of older people are rapidly increasing. Many of the health related problems that contributed to decreased life span have been combated”.
Another question is housing, some live in their homes, assisted living, nursing homes or independent living, but will there be enough structure in place to meet these growing needs? There are also the needs of the families, caring for their elderly parents, while raising their children, and working. An article written by Joan Mooney, “Housing America’s Graying Population, she states: Eighty to 90 percent of Americans want to “age in place,” either in their current home or in their neighborhood. But most homes and communities are not set up to house the elderly. And also in an interview with Henry Cisneros, former Hud Secretary, he stated, “The solution will lie not just in individual homes, but also in the surrounding communities. The number-one fear of people as they age is isolation,” said Cisneros. “They need to be able to get to the doctor, stores, parks, and other public amenities” (Mooney).
Another area of concern, are the growing needs for professional social workers for this demographic in our society. Will there be enough workers for all the needs characterized by this growing segment? Social workers serve as advocates for the older people and their families, providing necessary connections for the services needed. As these demographics change and grow there is a growing requirement for social workers to provide for the necessities of these individuals and their families. There are also questions about how this generation will be taken care of since the largest part of the population will be older, and less will be in the market place.
Social workers are essential to this growing segment in our population. The professional, skilled social worker, who is equipped in problem solving, can lend peace, security and hope to the individual. They are knowledgeable about how human behavior, social, financial, and cultural issues, and how they relate and affect daily lives. So, as there are economic factors that lead to nervousness about the future of our economic growth. There are also valid arguments for supply and demand. Yes there are possibly less workers in the work force, though people are working longer. There are new or growing markets for healthcare, housing, social work intervention and pharmaceuticals, among other things that will drive the economy. There is definitely going to be cause for growth in the Gerontology field. Currently this is not an area, where social workers tend to stay due to financial restrictions, among other things. In a testimony given by:
Testimony of Elizabeth J. Clark, PhD, ACSW, MPH Executive Director, National Association of Social Workers Washington, DC Submitted to the Special Committee on Aging United States Senate Hearing
She advocates encouragement, incentives for people to enter the social work arena for the elderly through providing education, and stronger rewards to gain retention in an area of service where the general social worker does not feel it is advantageous. Otherwise the shortages will be acute and lacking the professional
Worker needed to avoid a dangerous outcome, for the coming era. She also advocates education and marketing to avert the common ideas that are related to working with older generation. That it is depressing working with the sick and the dying. A perception also exists that there are few personal, professional, and societal rewards for working with older people.
Social Workers need to take an aggressive approach to change the opinions that older individuals lack value, these needs to change in the hearts of Americans and in the hearts of the people reaching this age.
It is also concluded, NASW agrees that the existing health care workforce will be inadequate to meet the needs of older Americans. They believe the Federal Government should be involved and encouraged towards loan forgiveness, stipends for students and faculty, and financial support for field placements in geriatrics to be able to attract and retain social workers and other health care professionals in the field of geriatrics.”
The reason I include large portions of this article is I believe that will support and show this so-called Greying America does not have to be a problem. It can be solved through its own counterparts. We the nation and the other surrounding developed nations can use their own resources with the help of professionals. With encouragement, marketing, education and direction people can live functional lives even in old age.
As the baby boomer generation is different in a variety of ways, this can add enthusiasm to the discussion because, this generation does not want to stop and sit in a rocking chair. Yes, as boomers age, they will put increasing burdens on the health care and financial system. There is proof that there is a shortage in practitioners in the area dealing with aged population. And there is proof that medical advances have taken place due to this encroaching segment in the population. The fact that the older generation is trying to stay younger through exercise and prevention and taking care of themselves is causing innovation in the medical industry.
It has been said that many core nations are working toward and getting honestly prepared for the rise in the elder population. There is always the concern for the impoverished segment, like elderly, single women, and some minorities that are on the fringes. But that is where the social worker can be a benefit, searching for crucial answers and direction, and educating society to the benefits age can provide, so the stereotypes can change and empower the elderly, especially in their own attitudes.
The cultural views on aging have changed also. Before this age, before the industrial revolution, our elders were given great respect. The family included the elders, grandparents in the home. They helped raise the grandchildren and provided wisdom in the home. But cultural views have changed and the older population doesn’t seem as necessary or crucial to the family and the world. The stereotype of the older population depicts them as old and feeble, they are a drag on society, in their usefulness and value. In many cultures the elders were revered and needed now they are replaced by youthfulness and vigor. They are shuffled off to nursing homes instead of being an integral part of the home.
There is great concern over finances, will our economy survive when varying resources are changing. Coming from the perspective of belonging to the ‘baby boomer generation and reading various articles, this generation was a change from previous generations. There was an increase in money to be spent and less saved. There became more emphasis on pleasure and leisure. After the depression, the financial world allowed for more to be had, with a blink of an eye. You did not have to save, before buying as our parents did. So, is this generation ready to quit the market place? Many are working longer due to the need to save and get out of debt. This can be a good thing as working enriches lives, keeps the brain sharp and hopefully the body more nimble.
So this is cause and effect, our society is living longer, less population, so we now have to control the somewhat adverse effects of an older population? Or is it an adversity? Are older people nonproductive residues in our environment? Maybe because I am a part of that generation, I believe they have contributions, yet to give. Mother Theresa was older when she passed from this world. Should she have been pushed into a corner to die? I do not believe so. She was a great asset to the community in our world. My mother, until recently resided in our home for years. Now she is in Oregon with the rest of my family, but she is valued and loved. I do not think people intend to relegate the elderly to the corner, but pressures in the home, finances and social perspective seem to guide us there.
The Social Work profession wants to work to change these notions and show people their worth, through, information, education, counselling, community assistance and many other problem solving community and government actions. What can be done to change the present outcome? We need to let people continue to contribute in their own way, so they can feel their worth. Yes, generally they cannot move as fast, even think or talk as fast as you or I. But they can show and teach us, if we are willing to learn and listen. We have learned by studying History that we can change things and have a better outcome for the future if we do not repeat mistakes. I believe when families co-existed, the family unit had a greater strength and fortitude to weather storms. Culturally, the breakdown of the family unit exists, but the foundations can still be built through relationships and assistance to the needy. Through reaching out in the community, and again this can be directed with social assistance. Social workers in this environment are trying to instill life in the elder patient and the family giving them direction, and assistance through the transition, of being the giver to the receiver as an older person is. But we can still allow them to give through their lives, if we are willing to receive.
Working in the public, networking, people are not satisfied to stop at a certain age, but press on to learn new things. There are many people re-inventing themselves at different walks in their lives, to allow for change, challenge and growth as individuals, who will benefit society. This benefit can come in the form of financial advantage and socially for our society as a whole to counter affect the challenges of a so-called decaying society. With encouragement, marketing, education and direction people can live functional lives even in old age.
Gibelman, M. (1995). What Social Workers Do (4th ed.). Washington, DC. NASW Press.
Dunkle, R.E., Norgard, T. (1995). Aging Overview. In R.L. Edwards (Ed.-in-Chief), Encyclopedia of Social Work (19th ed., Vol. 1, pp. 142-153). Washington, D.C.: NASW Press.
Zuniga, M.E. (1995). Aging: Social Work Practice. In R.L. Edwards (Ed.-in-Chief), Encyclopedia of Social Work (19th ed., Vol. 1, pp. 173-183). Washington, D.C.: NASW Press.
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