(Bloomberg View) — In U.S. politics, “seniors’ issues” usually means Medicare and Social Security and how much to spend on them.
That needs to change, as a new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development illustrates: The pressure of demographics will turn plenty of more mundane things into seniors’ issues. For a glimpse into that future, take a look in Philadelphia’s garages.
The city is being squeezed by an aging population, poverty and housing costs. One in 7 Philadelphians are already 65 and older, a number that is projected to grow 24 percent by 2020. Most want to stay in their own homes. Many are poor. And as in many U.S. cities, money for social services is tight: Philadelphia’s budget fell 12 percent from 2013 to 2014 alone.
So in 2011, the city council adopted zoning changes that make it easier to build “accessory dwelling units” — such as garage, basement or backyard apartments — designed for the elderly to move into while they rent out their homes to make money or their families move in as caregivers.
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Putting granny in the garage might not seem like loving elder care, but the OECD’s report shows that cities need to try new policies, and fast.
From 2001 to 2011, the number of people 65 or older living in developed-country cities jumped 24 percent — three times the speed of growth for those cities as a whole.
By 2050, 1 in 4 people will be 65 or older, with the fastest growth among those 80 and up.
That means more than just finding new places for seniors to live. The report looks at cities in North America, Europe and Japan that have already started grappling with the needs of their aging populations:
– Cologne, Germany, started a program that lets students move in with seniors for free, in return for acting as caregivers. The city is also encouraging small shops to relocate to residential areas, to make shopping easier for seniors who can’t use cars.