According to 2012 population estimates the U.S. Census Bureau released today, Calhoun County's population of residents reaching the traditional retirement age grew in the last two years while the number of younger residents shrank. The shift is part of an ongoing national trend to an increasingly older population that could burden senior care services, raise medical costs and stifle economic growth in the area, health care and economic experts say.
The statistics show that in 2012 there were 17,782 county residents 65 years old or older, a 4.6 percent increase from the 16,990 residents in the same age group counted in 2010.
In contrast, the number of county residents younger than age 18 fell by 2 percent during the same time, with 26,615 in that age group in 2012 compared to 27,126 in 2010. The statistics also show that there were 28,757 county residents between ages 25 and 44 in 2012, a decrease of 2.3 percent since 2010.
The county's aging trend is reflected in state and national figures. The statistics show Alabama's population of residents 65 years old and older increased about 6.3 percent between 2010 and 2012. Meanwhile, the total U.S. population in that age group increased by about 7.14 percent during the same time period.
Keivan Deravi, an economist at Auburn University Montgomery, said the large baby boomer generation is the main reason for the aging population in recent years. Deravi said that as the baby boomers continue to age and retire and younger people are not produced fast enough to replace them, the effect on area, state and national economies will be significant.
"You'll get two phenomenons; one is a shrinking of the labor available to work which will be sort of a disadvantage for the formation of businesses and the creation of income," Deravi said. "And seniors do not spend as much ... they are not usually buying a house or borrowing money ... and they are not usually inclined to purchase the new and innovative stuff."
Born anytime from 1946 to 1964, inclusive, baby boomers this year will range from 49 to 67 years of age.
Deravi said that in decades past, baby boomers were responsible for much of the country's economic growth due to their higher incomes and desires to spend that money. But in the next 20 years as more baby boomers retire, instead of cars and houses, they'll be spending their money on medication and retirement homes, placing further financial strains on health care and senior services.
Randall Frost, director of senior services at the East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission, said his agency has already noticed the population grow older in recent years. The senior services division provides meals to about 2,500 low-income elderly residents every day along with assistance in obtaining cheaper prescription drugs. The agency also oversees several senior centers in the county.
Frost said the growing elderly population is a concern due to the lack of funding for local senior services in recent years.
"Our meal delivery program ... federal funding has been flat for almost a decade," Frost said. "And when you combine that with budget issues the state has faced the last few years and an increasing elderly population, funding is certainly falling behind the curve."
David McCormack, CEO of Regional Medical Center in Anniston, said the growing local elderly population will create challenges for his hospital in the years to come.
"We'll have the capacity to expand, to hire more people," McCormack said. "We'll be able to handle it physically, it's financially that will be the problem."
McCormack said the financial problems center around Medicare, which could face funding shortfalls in the years to come. Medicare is a federal insurance program that funds health care services mainly for residents 65 years old and older. The Affordable Care Act, the federal health care reform passed in 2010, has provisions designed to improve Medicare's fiscal health.
McCormack said more efforts in preventative care, such as encouraging more people to exercise, need to be taken to help the elderly and take some of the cost burden off the health care system.
"We want to try to keep people healthy as long as possible," McCormack said.
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.