The baby boom generation is the biggest in history. In America, ten thousand baby boomers retire every day. Writing for the Pacific Standard, Lisa Margonelli wonders how they are going to cope – and how the rest of society is going to cope with them:
- “Baby boomers aren’t going to retire the way their parents did. They are poorer and more likely to live alone. They can’t depend on pensions, and the real-estate bubble destroyed almost 50 percent of their wealth. Today one in six seniors lives in poverty, and that proportion is rising; the generation of Americans now facing retirement is so financially ill prepared that half of them have less than $10,000 in the bank. The coming swell of retirees will strain our current system to its limits—in terms of not only health care, but also incidental things like road signs, which are hard for drivers over 65 to read in a majority of American cities and towns.”
Living arrangements will be crucial:
- Seniors who can live on their own cost the country relatively little—they even contribute to the economy. But those who move into nursing homes start to run up a significant tab—starting at $52,000 a year. People who are isolated and lonely end up in nursing homes sooner. Hence, finding ways to keep people living on their own, socially engaged, healthy, happy, and out of care isn’t just a personal or family goal—it’s a national priority.
Margonelli’s proposed solution to the issue of housing for older people is a provocative one. She thinks that trailer parks are the answer.
In Britain, mobile homes are associated with holiday accommodation more than anything else, but to the American mind to live in a trailer is to be poor – dirt poor. Nasty epithets like ‘trailer trash’ only add to the social stigma.
So, given the choice, why would senior citizens even consider such an option? Value for money is one reason:
- “Units built since 1976, when the Department of Housing and Urban Development started regulating their construction, can last as long as site-built homes when they’re well built and maintained. Yet they cost far less: $41 per square foot versus $85 per square foot and up… In one survey, nine out of 10 owners of manufactured homes said they were satisfied with their dwellings.”
But as well as providing affordability and manageability, mobile homes also lend themselves to the creation of purpose-designed retirement communities – and that could be very important indeed:
- “Most places in America make it hard to grow old. Older people in neighborhoods with high crime, lots of traffic, and poor lighting have been found to ‘lose functioning’ (in other words, need nursing homes) earlier than those who live where they can walk. Those who live in the suburbs lose their social networks when they stop driving and become isolated. Loneliness is a killer: Over a six-year period, lonely seniors are 45 percent more likely to die and 59 percent more likely to decline than those who aren’t lonely.”
One thing is for sure: As their baby boomers get old, the nations of the west will need to find entirely new ways of dealing with unprecedented demographic pressures. Imagination will be required, because things cannot go on as they are. Few people want to go to a nursing home before they have to, and we’ll run out of money if, as a rule, they do.