The Silver Tsunami: What a Growing Elderly Population Means for Northern Michigan
The Silver Tsunami isn’t just coming to Traverse City; it’s already there.
So says Cindy McGarry, business development and community liaison manager for BrightStar Care of Northern Michigan. A term used to describe trends in the aging population, the “Silver Tsunami” has become a common vernacular in recent years as more baby boomers enter their 60s. The size of the baby boomer cohort, combined with the longer lifespans of the modern world, means that the Silver Tsunami will create a historically large elderly population across the United States in the years to come. In turn, this trend is expected to pose challenges to the health care system, housing and elder care services, and the American workforce.
In most parts of the country, the Silver Tsunami remains largely hypothetical. According to the Census Bureau’s definition of baby boomers – “individuals born in the United States between mid-1946 and mid-1964” – the oldest members of this cohort will be 76 this year and the youngest 58. Not until 2025 will all baby boomers be 60 or older, and not until 2030 will the entire cohort reach or pass the general retirement age of 65. . These milestones should trigger most of the Silver Tsunami’s obstacles.
But McGarry says Traverse City has attributes that make it particularly vulnerable to the challenges posed by an aging population. The first of these attributes is Traverse City’s status as a desirable retirement destination, which has given the area a disproportionately elderly population. The second is the high cost of living, which makes it difficult for local workers to afford housing, childcare, etc.
Together, McGarry says, these factors are creating a situation where the need for elder care services in Northern Michigan is skyrocketing, but where companies like BrightStar — a “home care and medical personnel agency” — are not cannot find enough employees to meet the demand.
“I believe we have 75 employees [right now]says McGarry of BrightStar. “And we could probably hire 75 more. Our request is through the roof. I get 12 intake calls a week, and we can probably handle two. And it breaks my heart. I got into this business to help people on a daily basis; now I listen to people crying on the phone when I can’t help them, because I’m the second or third person they call, and nobody has the staff.
According to the Area Agency on Aging (AAA) of northwest Michigan, Grand Traverse County will have an over-60 population of 31,545 by 2026, up from 27,818 in 2021. In an ideal world, Lana Payne, director of the Grand Traverse County Commission on Aging, says local organizations serving seniors would grow and evolve “to keep up with the increase in the senior population.” But like McGarry, Payne admits the growth of the younger workforce needed to support that growth will be difficult without the availability of affordable housing and child care.
Already, the problem of scalability is coming to an end. Cordia President and CEO Karen Anderson says The ticker that the seniors’ residence has only one apartment open at the moment, out of 110 units. Asked about expanding Cordia’s footprint, Anderson calls the question “complicated.”
“While the TC community could most likely benefit from additional supply [of senior living] at varying price levels, the local labor market warns against new developments,” says Anderson. “It is difficult to hire employees to fill all the positions we currently have. The small size of the pool of potential local employees and the shortage of affordable housing for employees once hired combine to make retention of the workforce very difficult. Cordia would not consider further expansion until we had more comfort in the job market. »
To complicate matters, labor shortages may worsen as the region loses workers who have reached or are approaching retirement age. According to data from Networks Northwest, 19.7% of Grand Traverse County adults between the ages of 55 and 64 are currently employed, along with 6.4% of those 65 and older.
It’s not just a Grand Traverse County problem either. The Northwest Michigan AAA serves a 10 county region covering Antrim, Benzie, Charlevoix, Emmet, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, Manistee, Missaukee and Wexford. According to AAA Executive Director Heidi Gustine, this 10-county region has a population of 315,339 in 2021. 95,741 of those people (30.4%) are baby boomers. Another 29,472 (9.3%) are part of the “silent generation”, 77 or older this year. These two groups, collectively, are larger than the combined totals of Gen X (55,478 people) and Millennials (53,179 people) living in the region. Those numbers, Gustine notes, highlight the uphill battle Northern Michigan faces as it seeks to support its growing elderly population.
“Right now, if you pick up a newspaper, we’re reading about labor shortages,” Gustine said at a recent Grand Traverse community collaboration meeting focused on seniors services. “It’s because we have this dichotomy in our population right now, with so many more baby boomers versus working generations.”
The situation will only get worse. Statistically, Gustine notes that the population of the 10 counties is expected to reach approximately 323,000 by 2026, with the population over 60 increasing by 10%. Over the same time frame, the region’s under-60 population is expected to decline by 2%, with more young and middle-aged adults leaving the region than arriving.
“It’s important when we start talking about continuum of care, because we’re already at a point where our continuum of care is stressed,” Gustine said. “The pandemic has really pushed [senior care] in some crisis situations, and we’re going to feel that compounded as those numbers continue to change over the next five years.
“About five years ago, Grand Traverse County was heralded as one of the best places to retire [by CNN]added Deborah Allen, Executive Director of the Foundation at Grand Traverse Pavilions. “When that came out, Heidi and I had a conversation and said, ‘Wow, how are we preparing for this? Because since this article came out, I think we all recognize that there have been a large number of people who have withdrawn in our community. And infrastructure and services [for seniors]…have not necessarily been increased for this growth.
So how will Northern Michigan meet the need for elder care services? For Russ Knopp, who is co-owner of the local franchise of home care provider Comfort Keepers, there are two quirky strategies that could help.
“I meet with lawmakers and policymakers all the time to talk to them about how guest workers and immigration could help our industry,” says Knopp. “People who come from other countries and who have this kind of experience, they could come and take up positions here. The other thing that’s happening is that Silicon Valley is stepping up and seeing that there are opportunities here. I get emails every week about the latest and greatest in technology helping seniors stay independent in their homes. The one we’re looking at right now is artificial intelligence that studies the behaviors of older people in their homes — to keep them safe and to eat, to help them take their medications at the right time, all of those things. Technology is definitely going to play a big role here over the next decade. »