The graying of Grays Harbor: No better time to plan ahead

Does it ever occur to you that “stupid” should hurt? A couple of weeks ago, right here in our own little corner of the world, a reader got an evening phone call to the effect that a PRE-paid “emergency device” was waiting for her — All she had to do was press “#1” and provide delivery instructions; Oh, and even the shipping was pre-paid by someone (someone, apparently, who felt the need to remain anonymous) who was “…concerned about her falling.”

Really? Someone is so concerned about your well-being that they’re willing to pay for a “device” (AND the shipping) but don’t want you to know who they are or bother to ask if you want it, need it, understand it or might do anything other than use it for a doorstop? That seems … unlikely.

The reader summarily hung up. Good! Because it was at least an attempt to scam her, and/or Medicare and/or SOMEBODY — See? A textbook example of a situation in which “stupid” would have hurt.

But let’s cheer ourselves up by talking about ourselves, which is a topic that most humans find fascinating; specifically, the 2011 U.S. Census numbers are in (well, I know, but the wheels of wheel-counting turn slowly), and we are an interesting crowd — “We” being “older adults.”

The U.S. Census defines “older adults” as 65 or better; some of us could argue with that seemingly arbitrary number, but some of us also have better things to do than attempt to correct the U.S. Census Bureau — I know I do; thus, 65 or better, it is. Listen:

• The number of us “older adults” lurking about increased from 35 million in 2000 to 41.4 million in 2011, which comes out to be an 18% increase and, apparently, we’re just getting warmed up because we’re projected to increase to 79.7 million in 2040, which is only 27 years away! You might have grandchildren who are 27. See? That’s not that long from now. We are not, my friends, a “minority” or a “fringe” — We are a voting bloc! One out of every 8 humans in the country. Keep that in mind. Oh, and just as an aside, the 85+ crowd is projected to come in at 14.1 million by 2040;

• People who get to 65 have an average, additional life expectancy of 20.4 years for females and 17.8 for males (sorry, Guys, we’re just not as bullet-proof as we’d like to think we are); so, does that tell anybody anything about “financial planning?” Outliving our money is a lot like outliving our health insurance — Oops!

• So, we shouldn’t be surprised to hear that “older” women outnumbered older men, 23.4 million to 17.9 million, which might account for the fact that older men were much more likely to be married than older women — 72% of men vs. 45% of women. In 2012, 37% of older women were widows. Does that tell us anything about financial planning?

• 28% of us (11.8 million, to be achingly precise) who didn’t live in some manner of “institution,” lived alone — That’s better than 1 out of every 4, and half (well, OK, 46%) of older women lived alone.

• The “median income” (meaning, half were above and half were below) for older adults in 2011 was $27,707 for males and $15,362 for females. Hmm … Aren’t we rich? Maybe not, because in 2010, the major source of income for 86% of us was Social Security. By the way, 26% reported that their “major source of income” was “earnings.”

• Something called a “supplemental poverty measure” (which, apparently, is a little different from the good, old “poverty measure”) shows 15.1% of us were below the poverty line. The report I’m reading states: “This increase is mainly due to including medical out-of-pocket expenses in the poverty calculations.” No kidding.

• And just so you know that we’re not all living alone, spending our days in the counting house counting all our money, 497,000 grandparents had the primary responsibility for their grandchildren, who lived with them, in 2011.

So, what do you think? We hear a lot of cute little one-liners and bumper sticker BS about who we are and what we do and what we need and what we don’t need and what we want and what we don’t want and what we don’t deserve and blah blah blah. But this is what’s actually true, greed and politics aside.

Let all of that sink in, but be very careful, because the easy “take away” from stuff like this is, “I’m going to live to this particular age, alone, then die with no money.” Wait a minute. That’s obviously not true, and any of us who have been out of the house in the last seven days know it. Look around. What do you see?

And when you think about these numbers, what do you see? One thing you could see might be an opportunity to think about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it; the fact is, most of us are going to be around for a good, long time, so everybody had better get used to it and start planning for it.

How do you want your life to be? How do you want it to look? What’s important to you? What isn’t?

We didn’t start acting like were dead when we were 27 — Why would we start acting that way at 66? Right: We wouldn’t, so don’t.

Think about all these numbers, then think about people you know, because you could choose to make a difference in their lives — if you weren’t dead — and I’m pretty sure you’re not, because very few dead people read this column.

Here’s another way to think about it: We’re winning … and it’s about time.

Mark Harvey is the director of Information and Assistance for Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He can be reached at or 532-0520 in Aberdeen, (360) 942-2177 in Raymond or (360) 642-3634. FACEBOOK: Olympic Area Agency on Aging-Information & Assistance.