We know world population projections call for a rise in the number of people 60 years or older from 900 million to 2 billion by 2050. What we do not know is what we are going to do with all of them.
Ponder that for a moment: We do not have a clear plan for what we are going to do with 2 billion people. The numbers do not start or end there. People 60 and older are expected to increase from the current 12% to 22% of the worldwide population in just 31 years.
How the United States, and by example Texas, will ensure equity in the distribution of resources and how the elderly will be guaranteed a dignified existence remains unknown. The state’s continued economic health will depend on how this growing, and potentially needy, population is treated. Put simply, it is vital to the state’s continued economic viability.
Some Texas lawmakers and public officials see a higher cost for social services, possible labor shortages, and higher costs for pensions and health care as probable outcomes from a larger older population.
This means that state and local governments alone will never be able to address all of the needs of older people, particularly those of Latino descent.
Texas continues to grow rapidly, and this demographic revolution is led partly by the Hispanic population. Nationwide, Latinos will triple by 2050 and make up 1 in every 4 Americans (28.6% by 2060). The state of Texas will be majority Hispanic as early as 2022.
Although demography is not destiny, these social forces have serious implications for the future Texas economy and local municipalities. Who is considered deserving or undeserving?
Are we able to rely on Mexico and Latin America for a workforce to replace a decline in non-Latino white American children?
Should we continue to use age as a primary variable and exclude undocumented persons for public benefits?
These questions are fundamental to planning for support of the current and next generation. But perhaps the biggest issue that deserves public attention is a renewed social contract between generations.
How can we promote and strengthen policies that reinforce social solidarity in the next 10 years, and specifically for Hispanic aging families and communities?
The first step is to deal with caregiver support. Taking on the caregiving role has been shown to interfere with productivity levels in the workplace, with an opportunity cost of about $67 billion.
In just 30 years, this will probably double to between $132 billion and $147 billion as shown by the Urban Institute’s National Aging and Health Trends Study.
Despite socioeconomic disadvantages, Hispanics tend to outlive non-Hispanic whites, especially the foreign born, by approximately three years, what is known as the “Latino Paradox.”
Yet, much of the additional years of life for many Hispanics are characterized by poor health and functional limitations, as well as increasing levels of reliance on their family members for care and support. Diabetes and dementia are two of the most common reasons Latino caregivers report for caregiving that take a particular toll.
Most recently, a study we completed hints at potential solutions to this problem. Data of more than 300 family caregivers and care recipients suggests that culturally tailored home- and community-based care options are needed to supplement the low levels of caregiver support.
Most Mexican American caregivers who used formal services are recent dementia caregivers with time-intensive caregiving and low levels of support from family or friends. Use of formal services may also be related to poor health if the care is not culturally or linguistically appropriate.
Taken together, interventions mobilizing support early in the dementia caregiving career are critical for Mexican American family caregivers.
On the local level, more Texas municipalities need to strengthen collaborations with nongovernmental organizations to provide much needed support to low-income older adults and their caregivers. Caregivers need assistance in navigating complex medical and social service environments and understanding complex medical and technical issues.
Given the vulnerabilities of the Hispanic population inherent in an employment-based retirement and health insurance system, the question remains as to whether the next generation will accept the new realities of caregiving in an aging world.
Jacqueline Angel is a professor of sociology and public affairs at The University of Texas at Austin.
Sunshine Rote is an associate professor in the Kent School of Social Work at the University of Louisville.