Marilynn Garfield of Delray Beach, Fla., left, raises her hand when the audience was asked how many are on Medicare during the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans fifth annual town hall meeting on health care reform in Delray Beach, Fla. Thursday Aug. 20, 2009. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Newly released census data show an alarming rate of growth in the population of adults 65 and older.
In California, the population of older Americans grew to more than 4 million, making it the state with the most seniors, according to the new data.
"The information will provide some unique challenges for the data users," said Carrie Werner, US Census Bureau statistician.
Or, as Paul Downey with the Senior Community Centers said, it's a "whack over the head with a 2-by-4."
"This should be a wake-up call for our elected officials to start focusing on aging policy now," Downey said. "Otherwise, we'll be dealing with it in crisis-mode."
The data show that more than 11 percent of California's population is aged 65 years and older. About 1.6 percent of the population is older than 85 as well.
That number is growing at a fast rate, the data suggests. The rate of growth in individuals aged 65 and older grew 18 percent in the last 10 years. The highest rates of growth were seen in Northern and Costal California counties. The state ranks 21st compared to other states' rates of growth, Werner said.
This growth is especially alarming considering the first baby boomers are just turning 65. By 2030, the population will have doubled, Downey said. He compared the new census data figures to the receding shoreline just before a tsunami hits.
"This is just year one of what's going to be a 40-year increase in seniors," he said.
While many weren't surprised by the growth of the senior population, the release of the data comes at an important political time, when candidates will be forming their policies around their voting demographics.
The numbers raise a red flag for Social Security's solvency, which will rely on a smaller proportion of the population to provide funds for a relatively large population of seniors, Downey said.
Other less obvious issues include job creation for older Americans, he added. Seniors will likely have to work longer before they can retire. In creating more jobs, policies should also focus on jobs that will retain and train seniors, such as jobs in the healthcare industry.
Another issue is housing, he said. Most of the seniors Downey knows use 75 percent of their income to pay rent -- leaving them with about $200 per month for other basic needs.
"We risk people falling through the cracks," Downey said. "We need to acknowledge now that we are a graying nation."