North Carolina's aging population requires additional legislative resources

Laws, policies and procedures related to healthy aging in North Carolina will only become more important as the state's older population outpaces its younger ones, experts say.

“We are seeing a change in growth [in North Carolinians over age 60]”Republican Rep. Mike Clampitt of Swain said Tuesday before the House Committee on Family, Children and Aging Policy. “We expect the senior population, and in North Carolina that includes those over 60, will be over 18 years old by 2035.”

“In almost every county,” added Brieanne Lyda-McDonald, project manager at the North Carolina Institute of Medicine (NCIOM).

According to ncIMPACT, the 65+ population in North Carolina is expected to increase by 50% between 2021 and 2041, from 1.8 million to 2.7 million.

The committee met Tuesday afternoon to discuss recommendations from the NCIOM Healthy Aging Task Force.

The task force's social and economic recommendations include preserving material resources, ensuring safe and affordable housing, and ensuring digital equity for older adults.

According to an AARP fact sheet, in 2020, more than 48% of private sector workers in North Carolina aged 18 to 64 were employed by companies that do not offer any type of retirement plan.

Lyda-McDonald said the average American worker has no retirement savings and many who do are not on track to achieve a decent standard of living.

Rep. Jarrod Lowery, R-Robeson, encouraged his colleagues to consider House Bill 496, which would help ensure small businesses have the resources to provide retirement benefits to their employees.

One request from the NCIOM to the General Assembly is to establish a federally sponsored program to help companies offer salary reductions for retirement savings if those companies do not offer a plan. Other demands include that the General Assembly lower income and asset eligibility requirements for the Medicare savings programs and support funding for consumer protections.

The North Carolina Senior Tar Heel Legislature, founded in 1993 to promote advocacy on aging issues, has issued a series of NCIOM-focused legislative priorities for the 2023-24 session. Part of this request includes an additional $8 million in recurring funding for adult protective services and $1.26 million for senior centers.

In May 2023, Governor Roy Cooper signed Executive Order No. 280, which directed measures to make North Carolina an aging-friendly state.

“We’re seeing a lot of movement in that direction and excitement around aging in the state,” Lyda-McDonald said.

“What are the different challenges for you in your studies? [of] Aging in Raleigh or aging in a rural community?” Rep. Garland E. Pierce, D-Scotland, asked.

Lyda-McDonald said transportation issues and lack of services in rural communities contribute to the increasing difficulties of aging in rural areas.

Rep. Pierce had a few additional questions for Mary Bethel, Chair of the Board of Directors of the NC Coalition on Aging. He questioned whether the state has the ability to accommodate older residents who want to remain in the environment in which they feel most comfortable as they age.

“I don’t think we are ready, and I have been working [over 45 years]”Bethel said, adding that many of the issues raised during the meeting, such as housing, senior mental health and mobility, are critical to the state's success.

“Demographics are driving this,” Bethel said. “We tried to put together a plan on aging 22 years ago where we said North Carolina needed to respond. It fell on pretty deaf ears, and the reason for that is: the demographics were not what they are today. If we don't start addressing some of these issues given the demographics, they're going to bite us in the butt.”

For questions or comments, or to share story ideas, please write to Matthew Sasser at [email protected] or contact NC Insider at [email protected] or @StateAffairsNC

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