The Census Bureau has updated its population projections.

The population forecasts look like demographic science fiction. Statisticians at the bureau use survey data and forecasting models to estimate how the U.S. population will change from now through 2060. They also try to estimate how old the future Americans will be, and how many of those Americans of the future will be men and how many will be women.

The forecasters now say, based on 2010 census data and other data, that the total U.S. population could be 359 million in 2030 — or 16 years from now, when significant numbers of the people now planning for long-term care (LTC) needs might be starting to use LTC services. That’s up slightly from a total of 358 given in 2012 projections based on 2010 Census data, and but it’s down 1.4 percent from a total of 363,584 given in 2004 projections based on 2000 Census data.

The projected totals and demographic breakdowns could easily be wrong. If immigration increases, that could increase the size of the population and affect the age distribution.

If Ebola or a bad influenza pandemic took root in the United States before the country had a good vaccine or effective treatments ready, that could decrease the size of the population.

But managers of government programs use the projections to shape their thoughts about the kinds of resources they might need for schools and health care facilities in the future.

Insurers can use the projections to shape their thoughts about what their prospects, active-life insureds and beneficiaries might look like.

For three glimpses of what the new projections say, and how the new projections are different from earlier projections released in 2004 and 2012, read on. 

Older couple

1. The total number of people ages 65 and older could be even higher than forecasters thought a few years ago

Forecasters now say the country could have 74.1 million people ages 65 and older in 2030, up from 55 percent from the current number of people in that age group — 47.8 million.

That 65-plus population estimate is now 1.8 percent higher than the 72.8 million figure given in the 2012 forecast, and 3.7 percent higher than the 71.5 million estimate given in the 2004 forecast.

If the 2030 65-plus population is really much higher than forecasters expected just a few years ago, that could be hard on government programs and private products that begin paying benefits at age 65.

Most consumers now qualify for Medicare when they turn 65, and many consumers with private retirement accounts begin drawing from the accounts even before they turn 65. 

See also: 5 ideas for selling LTCI to the Medicare generation

Older man

2. The percentage of the population in the “oldest old” category might not be that high

Some unlucky people need LTC services from the moment they’re born, and the percentage who need care increases gradually as the years go on. Some develop dementia even before they reach age 65.

But typical people can avoid using formal LTC services until they are at least 85, and improvements in health care and community planning may increase the percentage who can put off needing formal care until they are over 85 might increase significantly even between now and 2030.

Today, about 6.3 million people are in the oldest old category.

The number of people in the oldest old age group could rise to 9.1 million in 2030, according to the new estimates.

That figure is up 2.1 percent from an estimate of 8.9 million published in 2012, but down 4.9 percent from the 2004 estimate of 9.6 million.

It turns out that the population of people ages 65 to 74 is what will show the most growth. Analysts now say it will be about 65 million in 2030. That’s up 1.8 percent from the 2012 estimate of 64 million, and up 5 percent from the 2004 estimate of 62 million.

The changes suggest that helping “young old” people who want to work might be more of a challenge in 2030 than expected, while paying for LTC services for the oldest old might be somewhat less of a challenge expected.

See also: Most boomers plan to keep working in retirement years [chart]

Adults who are about ages 18 to 64

3. The number of people in what is now thought of as the “working age” category could be higher than expected

Today, the Census Bureau classifies Americans ages 18 to 64 as working-age people. 

The typical retirement age could rise significantly in the future, and the Census Bureau has adjusted the way it reports on that population group in the past few years. The new tables and the 2012 tables provide information on people ages 18 to 64; the 2004 has data only people ages 20 to 64.

But it looks as if the number of people ages 45 to 64 — in what should be their peak earning years — could be 82 million in 2030. That would be down from 84 million today, but the 2030 estimate is up about 2 percent from the 2030 projection of 81 million given in 2012.

The number of people ages 25 to 64 could be 178 million in 2030. That would be from 170 million today. The new projection is about 2 percent higher than the projection made two years ago.

If the traditional working-age population is bigger than expected in 2030, and the size of the oldest old population is a little smaller than expected, that could help make it easier for the United States to help the oldest old people who do need LTC services.

See also: As population ages, it’s not your grandma’s ‘65 and older’