By 2034, for the first time in the nation’s history, adults age 65 and older are expected to outnumber children. As the U.S. population grows older, states are exploring policies to ease the transition and offer support.
Legislators play an important role in meeting the distinct needs of this population. Older adults experience social, physical and economic challenges that other age groups generally don’t. For example, about half of Americans over 65 are predicted to need some level of long-term health-related services and supports. Some older adults also face economic constraints due to limited retirement resources: Increased age is associated with higher rates of poverty, ranging from 9% for ages 65 to 74 to 14% for ages 85 and older. Older adults may also face more transportation barriers than other age groups as people tend to drive less frequently, or not at all, as they age.
About half of Americans over 65 are predicted to need some level of long-term health-related services and supports.
States have passed various measures addressing some of these health, financial and transportation challenges. For example, Washington established the country’s first public long-term care insurance program, funded with a payroll tax, to pay benefits of up to $36,500 to cover the cost of both institutional and home-based care. South Carolina’s Workforce and Senior Affordable Housing Act allows a taxpayer eligible for a federal housing tax credit to also claim a state housing tax credit. And Florida’s Managed Medical Assistance program covers the nonemergency medical transportation, which can be critical in ferrying older adults to their various health care services.
A handful of states have implemented or developed comprehensive strategies known as master plans for aging. The plans address policy areas supporting older adults’ social, physical and economic well-being and help develop a framework to shape and support state policies and funding to meet the needs of older adults and their family caregivers. These comprehensive approaches support various aspects of aging across health, human services, housing, transportation, employment and income security, and business development.
Most of the plans are established by executive action, though legislators are important partners in crafting the plans and funding initiatives.
For example, California Executive Order N-14-19 (2019) called for the creation of a master plan for aging to serve as a blueprint for state government, local communities, private organizations and philanthropies to help the state accommodate its growing population of older adults. The plan outlines five goals and 23 strategies to build an “age-friendly” California by 2030:
- Housing for all stages and ages.
- Health reimagined.
- Inclusion and equity, not isolation.
- Caregiving that works.
- Affording aging.
Similarly, Texas Executive Order R.P. 42 (2005) created the Aging Texas Well Advisory Committee and strategic plan, which is updated every two years. The strategic plan is a “comprehensive proposal to identify and discuss aging policy issues, guide state government readiness and promote increased community preparedness for an aging Texas.” The advisory committee identifies policy areas affecting older adults such as caregiving, community support, employment, health and long-term care, housing, transportation and spirituality.
Colorado, on the other hand, enacted legislation in 2015—the Comprehensive Strategic Action Plan on Aging Act—creating a multidisciplinary group of private and public sector stakeholders to develop a strategic plan through the year 2030. Like other states’ executive orders, the plan’s goals address areas such as workforce, affordable housing, transportation, health and human services.
State policymakers have long been discussing the growing population of older adults. Now they have the opportunity to lead and find solutions that support all elements of aging well.
Samantha Scotti is a senior policy specialist in NCSL’s Health Program.