SENIOR HIGHLIGHTS: Pig in python theory booming

By Jobyna Nickum

A pig in a python.

That’s how my college professor back in the 1980s described the post World War II “baby boom” – the large number of babies born to parents who were finally entering an era of hope, prosperity and the G.I. Bill.

Birth rates had gone down during the 1930s due to the Great Depression as families struggled financially and women lost pregnancies due to poor nutrition. However, the 1940s brought hope. We, the Allies, had just won the “the war to end all wars” and were the heroes” – always a morale booster!  There was construction all over the country, the future was our oyster, nothing was impossible and people dreamed big! Babies, babies everywhere! Men who had been in the service took advantage of the G.I. Bill. Other men worked in the trades and the automobile, plane and train industries were taking off – offering futures that had been undreamed of before the war. More babies, more brothers and sisters. Dr. Spock wrote a book and for the first time, parents looked outside of the family for help with their kids. Job opportunities took these young families outside of their towns their families had lived in for generations.

New “families” started up:  bowling leagues, PTA and fraternal organizations like the Moose and the Elks. Televisions weren’t something that just the richest family in town had – every household had a TV set. Television became a new member of the family structure. Commercials talked to the kids and told them what they just had to have to belong to the national “family.” Every kid wanted a Slinky or an Etch-a-Sketch or demanded their folks pick up some Jell-o or Kool-Aid at the store. They were very different childhoods than their parents had experienced just 20 years before.

According to the book “AGE POWER: How the 21st Century Will be Ruled by the New Old,” by Ken Dychwald, published in 1999, “Just like the hospitals a few years before, the public school system was totally unprepared for the boomer’s arrival. There weren’t enough school buildings, classrooms, playgrounds or teachers. By the 1960s, class size ballooned and many schools were forced to go into multiple sessions, while the boards of education professed surprise at the situation – yet they’d had 13 years to see the boomers coming. As social and public planners belatedly realized that the boom posed a serious demographic challenge, the game of catch-up began in earnest.”

So, the pig has moved further along in the python.

I remember sitting in a lecture hall at Baylor University in 1986 and having heated group discussions about how our nation would handle it when the Baby Boomers finally hit their senior years and what impacts it might make on our country’s infrastructure. One thing all of us college students knew for certain was that because we had almost 30 years to prepare – certainly our politicians and our planners would be on top of the situation. Ah, the stupidity of young college students!

Optimistic, unrealistic, ungrounded in reality as we were – we had the silly ideas that planners across the nation would have an infrastructure of “aging in place” communities. Livable communities that didn’t require driving, great public transit systems, less funding for multi-lane free-ways and more funding for sidewalks, shuttles and paths for all these elders.

Hmmm. No comment.

Federal, state, county and local agencies would have spent the previous 10 years building up, fortifying their services for “volunteer in-home care,” volunteer driving, in-home safety mechanism, because we all know keeping people at home and in their communities is the most economical and the most preferred living situation for all concerned. Paying for institutional living is a burden on the taxpayer and not how most Americans wish to live, according to most surveys.

Hmmm. No comment.

Senior centers -- which act as focal points in communities all across the country (rural or city centers) – would certainly have had their funding and staffing increased to meet the growing needs of the upcoming elder Baby Boom.

Hmmm. No comment.

Along comes the U.S. government’s 2010 Census. In my best Gomer Pyle voice, “surprise, surprise” senior boomers are here and those in charge were caught by surprise!

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service Administration on Aging – A Profile of Older Americans: 2010, the 65-plus population will increase from 35 million in 2000 to 55 million in the year 2020.  The 85-plus population is projected to increase to 6.6 million in 2020, a 15 percent increase in this decade. Since 1900, the percentage of Americans 85 or older is 46 times larger!  Minority senior populations are projected to increase to 12.9 million in 2020, or 23.6 percent of the elderly population. Currently, the percentage of children in the U.S. is 24 percent, falling below the previous low of 26 percent in 1990. Compare this to the beginning of last century, when children made up 40 percent of our population and seniors made up just 4 percent.

We do live in a changing time of society.

“America’s cities are beginning to grapple with a fact of life: People are getting old fast and they’re doing it in communities designed for the sprightly. To envision how this silver tsunami will challenge a youth-centered society, just consider that seniors will soon outnumber schoolchildren in hip, fast-paced New York City,” states a July 11 online article, “Aging Boomers Strain Cities Built for the Young.” This article outlines how, with limited funding, New York City is trying to respond to the aging boom.

“In East Harlem, a yellow school bus pulls up to a curb and 69-year-old Jenny Rodriguiz climbs off. The bus had already dropped a load of kids at school. Now before the afternoon trip home, it is shuttling older adults to a market where they flock to fresh fruits and vegetables. More than 200 times, school buses have taken older adults from senior centers to supermarkets in different neighborhoods. It’s just one of a variety of initiatives begun in 2009 by the New York Academy of Medicine and the city’s government to address the needs of older residents. Already they are showing results. A city report found the number of crashes has dropped at busy intersections in senior-heavy community where traffic signals now allow pedestrians a few more seconds to cross the street.”

The World Health Organization states some changes to make communities “elder friendly” are not expensive, but just common sense. Access to more sitting benches and more bathrooms would help them get out and about is a comment shared by older adults all over the world.

“It’s shocking how far behind we are, especially when you think about this fact – that if you make something age-friendly, that means it is going to be friendly for all ages, not just older adults,” said Margaret Neal of Portland State University’s Institute on Aging. In Portland, Ore., there is a push to fit senior concerns like accessible housing into the city’s new planning and zoning policies.

“Last year, East Harlem became the country’s first “aging improvement district.” Sixty stores, identified with window signs, agreed to put out folding chairs to let older customers rest as they do their errands. The stores also try to keep aisles free of tripping hazards and use larger type so signs are easier to read. A community pool set aside senior-only hours so older swimmers could get in their laps without faster kids and teens in the way.

On one long block, accountant Henry Calderon welcomes older passers-by to rest in his air-conditioned lobby even if they are not customers. They might be, one day.

“It’s good for business but it’s good for society too,” he said.

Hmmm. No comment!


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