Dian's Column
Dian's Archive


I almost forgot, May is Older Americans Month

By Dian Vujovich

Among the many things the month of May brings with it, like Mother’s Day and a well-defined spring, it’s also “Older Americans Month.” And that’s a far better name for this fifth month of the year than the one President Kennedy came up with in 1963 when he created “Senior Citizens Month.”

Fortunately, it was President Jimmy Carter, who in 1980 changed the name to its current one. Although I don’t know many aged individuals who like being referred to as senior citizens, thinking of oneself as an older American does seem to take a little bit of the social stigma relating to old age away.

But in a country where aging is on the rise, it’s remarkable how unsavory that natural process has become. The exuberance, drive, excitement and ignorance of youth takes center stage in our culture when you’d think that the wisdom only aging can bring would trump all—particularly given our current economic and social climate.

But then what do I know? I’m heading for that older American status faster than I’d like to admit. When I do get there, however, I certainly won’t be alone.

When the celebrations of this month first began, there were only 17 million Americans who had reached their 65th birthday; roughly one-third of them lived in poverty.

In 2010, over 40 million people were aged 65 and up, according to the Administration on Aging. The median income that year was $25,704 for males and $15.072 for females. About 9 percent, or 3.5 million, had incomes below the poverty level.

We can look for both of those numbers—those over the age of 65 and the number of them who live in poverty— to swell dramatically in the coming years. That posses a big problem for America especially since in 2009 the major sources of income reported by the group was as follows: Social Security (87 percent); income from assets (53 percent); private pensions (28 percent); government employee pensions (14 percent); and earnings (26 percent).

With private pensions disappearing, investment income falling thanks to the stock markets and bond yields and Social Security something a few in government would like to gut, the future for the growing number of elder Americans looks as gray as the hair on their heads.

But heck, there are other nations with far great numbers of elderly in their populations. Perhaps one of them will provide a guiding light. Or maybe not.

In 2011, Monaco had the largest population of 65-plusers at 26.9 percent, according to NationMaster.com. Behind it, Japan, 22.9 percent, and then Germany and Italy with 20.6 percent and 20.3 percent, respectively. The U.S. came in with 13.1 percent of its population elderly. It held the 52nd slot out of the 230 nations listed.

Decide you’d like to live among the young and it’s the desert where oldsters don’t number much. Under 2 percent of those aged 65 and over live in Kuwait; 1.6 percent in Nauru; 1.5 percent in Qatar; and less than 1 percent (0.9) in United Arab Emirates.

The theme for this year’s “Older Americans Month” is Never too Old to Play. Don’t forget to do that this month and every month. It’s really important no matter what your age.

To read more articles, please visit the column archive.

[ top ]