Alaska editorial: Time to think about the aging population

Posted: Wednesday, March 02, 2005

This editorial appeared in Sunday's Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

Researchers and analysts at the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development do a fine job each month of reporting aspects of the state economy, its labor force and issues relating to each.

The February edition of the department's monthly publication carries a report that should be required reading everywhere: It tells us about us, mainly how many of us there are and are going to be in the years ahead.

The report gives plain numbers with occasional observations but without any associated policy recommendations. Acting on the numbers is for the public and the policymakers instead of the numbers people. But the population data provided by the department's personnel should cause Alaskans to think and act.

As the publication notes, the projected size of Alaska's population in the coming years and decades affects planning for economic and social services. "Fewer children means less need to build schools and a larger number of elderly means a growing need for assisted-living and health-care services."

Perhaps of greatest interest is the projected sharp rise in the Alaska population's percentage of seniors.

In 2000, Alaska had about 36,000 people 65 and older. At present, the number is about 43,200. The age bracket is expected to hold 70,400 people by 2014, and 119,200 by 2024, when the total state population is projected to be about 783,500.

The growth rate among the age group now sits at 4 percent annually but is expected to rise to 5 to 6 percent annually from 2008 to 2020. Seniors 65 and older now account for 6.5 percent of the state population but by 2024, will account for 15 percent of the total.

That's a lot of numbers to digest. But they're important, as the department's analysts observe in their report. Corresponding facilities and services for seniors need to expand. That takes time and planning, they write, adding that "... major effort to meet what is already becoming a crisis in this state cannot begin too soon."

Maybe it's worth doing more than just thinking about those numbers.

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