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Center for Intergenerational Policy and Practice
The Need for The Center for Intergenerational Policy and Practice
America is on the brink of a revolution, a revolution in longevity. In 1900, the average American could expect to live to the age of 47. Today, the figure is 76, with continuing increases anticipated into the new century. The addition of three decades to the American life span in less than a hundred years exceeds the total change over the previous 5,000 years. Together with the impending retirement of 76 million baby boomers and declining fertility rates, the increase in life expectancy means that Americans over the age of 65 will, by 2030, constitute between a fifth and a quarter of the population.
The demographic shift is also one between generations. At the turn of the century, there were ten times as many Americans under age 18 as over 65. By 2030 - for the first time in our history - the over-65 population will exceed the group under 18.
For the most part, the aging of America is portrayed as a source of impending conflict. Some observers warn of an exponential increase in dependency, chronic disease, and dementia as the oldest old become the fastest growing group in society. Other commentators see a new era of insolvency-and selfishness. Some predict the collapse of age-based entitlements, the decay of the social welfare state and the well-being of younger generations.
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, there are over 627,132 Long Islanders age 55+ and over 680,000 children and youth age 19 and under. Long Islands aging population is growing at a much faster pace than within other population groups. Long Island is aging more rapidly than New York State and the Nation as a whole. By 2010, a 64% increase is projected in the number of people 55 and older on Long Island, with more than one million residents in this age group while the percent under age 19 and under will diminish. In the decade 19902000, there was an 18% increase in the aging population and a loss of 7% in the 25 to 44 age group. In addition, our birth rate is now well below the replacement rate of live births per woman of reproductive age.
The weight of evidence suggests that, since the mid-1960s, despite the rapid rise in levels of education, Americans have become less likely to: voice their views; run for office; write to the newspaper; vote; attend public meetings; be engaged in political or civic organizations. (Putnam, Bowling Alone, 2000)
In 1992, three-quarters of the U.S. workforce said that "the breakdown of community" and "selfishness" were "serious" or "extremely serious" problems in America. (Putnam)
In several 1999 surveys, two-thirds of Americans said that Americas civic life had weakened in recent years, that social and moral values were higher when they were growing up, and that our society was focused more on the individual than the community. (Putnam)
With regard to volunteerism, an indicator of civic engagement, a 2002 report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that 27.6% of the civilian population age 16 and older volunteered. Volunteer rates were lowest among senior citizens and those in their early 20s.
However, a 2002 study by Civic Ventures reveals a striking shift in attitudes among senior citizens since their study three years earlier. The study reports a 9 percent increase in the number of 50-75 year old adults who consider volunteering an important part of their retirement plans. The number of people who saw retirement as a hybrid of both leisure and active involvement had risen from 6 percent to 10 percent. The sense of respondents enjoying good times had dropped but their enthusiasm for public service had risen.
Studies also indicated that talented and experienced retirees want to feel useful; be connected to other like-minded people; and have an impact in the work they do.