KILMARNOCK, Va. — More than a half-century after the baby boom, echoes shake the nation.
first boomers are now 66, the number of people younger than 45 has
declined in most states over the past decade, and the 2011 birthrate was
the lowest on record, at nearly half the 1957 rate. The divide between
the population needing care and the working adults who do the earning
and caring worsens each year.
In a withering Rust Belt and melting
Snow Belt, youngsters have fled but their childhood homes have
remained, concentrating the aged as schools have emptied and hospitals
have filled. But these aging outposts are only on the frontier.
“It’s the Floridaization of the U.S. By 2030, the U.S. will basically look like Florida looks now,” said Kristina Hash, an aging specialist at West Virginia University, a state with a median age of 41. In 2000, the nation had a median age of 35.
in Virginia’s Lancaster and Northumberland counties, where the median
age is 54, and a nursing home, hospital and cemetery are neighbors, Main
Street is lined with vacuum cleaner repair shops, doctors offices and
antiques stores, filled, in turn, by antique humans.
“That’s a role my son would have played,” said Augusta Sellew, a volunteer at the town museum.
is an economy functioning in the absence of much of the working age and
the young, centered on providing services for the elderly. It’s a scene
equally familiar in Alcona County, Mich., where half of residents have
reached retirement age and only 14 out of 100 are children, or on
Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where in Worcester and Talbot counties, more
than 37 percent of the population is retirement age.
In at least one way, Virginia’s Northern Neck, which computer store proprietor Doug Schaefer, 58, jokes peaked in 1720, is ahead of the curve. In the years to come, this is what the majority of America will look like.
boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, have overwhelmed the
nation’s infrastructure at every stage. But old age will represent the
final and longest-lasting test, with all of them between 65 and 83 by
the year 2029. It is the economic story of the century, happening before
aging-in-place phenomenon is a stealth phenomenon because you know
these people are around, but in 10 years they’re going to be older,”
said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution.
Kilmarnock’s Main Street, the dog park is larger than the children’s
park, and in Lee’s Diner, all 13 patrons have gray hair, while four
younger waitresses serve them.
“The pace is slower here. Even if it’s an emergency, you’ve still got to wait,” said Clifford Gratz, 83.
19, waits tables at a bowling alley that fills with senior bowlers on
league nights, but where attempts at DJ nights and laser tag failed for
lack of interest.