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That "long beautiful hair" baby boomers celebrated in the '60s Broadway musical is now going gray, and state government is trying to figure out how to manage it.
By 2030, 18 percent of Illinoisans will be 65 or older, an increase of nearly 60 percent from 2005, according to the Census Bureau. Those boomers, from pensioners to prisoners, are expected to strain already tight state services.
"There are a lot of issues out there in terms of older persons that the state is going to be confronted with," said Charles Johnson, director of the Illinois Department on Aging. "We're trying to do all that we can to deal with those issues right now."
Demographers define the baby boom generation as those born between 1946 -- the year after World War II ended -- and 1964. During those years, birth rates in Illinois and the nation hit an all-time high. As that population bulge moved from infancy through adolescence and adulthood, it left its mark on everything from popular culture to fashion to the stock market. That influence will continue as the boomers approach senior citizen status.
Expenditures by the Department on Aging increased from $298 million in Fiscal 2002 to $421 million in Fiscal 2006, according to state comptroller records. As the number of people eligible to receive department services continue to increase, Johnson said, he expects budgets will continue to rise.
Over the past several years, Aging has expanded its community care program, which is designed to keep older Illinoisans healthier and out of nursing homes as long as possible, Johnson said. Initiatives include nutrition and prescription drug programs for seniors and helping families care for older parents.
Another major issue that older people will face is housing.
"As property taxes go up, people cannot afford to maintain the houses that they're in," Johnson said.
The department has worked with the state Department of Healthcare and Family Services and other agencies on a supportive living program, which has built about 70 apartment-style facilities to provide an alternative to nursing homes for low-income residents 65 and older, as well as younger disabled residents.
For those who can remain in their own houses, Johnson said, "there are things we can do to make the home environment safer and adaptable to people as they age." Those include assessing homes of older residents to see if grab bars are needed in bathrooms or throw rugs should be removed because they could cause falls.
As well as trying to protect seniors inside the home, the department also is looking outdoors.
"We have been encouraging people all across the state, as we get ready for an aging population, to do things to enhance mobility," Johnson said. "As we develop new communities, we hope that people will begin to look at sidewalks as a way for people to get around, especially in urban areas, without walking in the street."
The department also encourages larger street signs and urges communities to install walk lights that count down the number of seconds left to cross streets safely, he said.
Fiscal Focus, a publication of the state comptroller's office, advises that in coming years, "Illinois can expect, and should plan for, increases in Medicaid spending, particularly as the baby boom generation becomes dependent on long-term care."
Medicaid, which is designed to help low-income Americans of all ages with medical costs, also provides nursing home care and mental health treatment for low-income seniors.
In Fiscal 2006, older enrollees made up 16.4 percent of the state's Medicaid population and accounted for nearly one-fourth of Medicaid spending, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Also of concern to Illinois government is its unfunded liability for state employee pensions, which is estimated to be $41 billion. Various proposals for the current state budget are aimed at drawing down that debt before more payments come due.
And putting the state further behind the eight ball are the boomers behind bars.
Inmates age 55 and older normally make up about 4 percent of the inmate population, according to Januari Smith, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Corrections.
Although the percentage of older prisoners has not increased dramatically, their number has climbed while the inmate population has quadrupled during the last three decades, according to the department's Web site. As prisoners serve longer sentences, the number and percentage of older inmates will increase.
A geriatric care center at Dixon Correctional Center now acts as a nursing home for more than 80 inmates who are 55 and older, and Corrections is exploring funding sources to expand it.
Dana Heupel can be reached at 788-1518 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
ILLINOIS IS AGING
Year Total Population # 65 and older % 65 and older
1970 11,113,976 1,088,911 9.8%
1980 11,427,409 1,261,885 11.0%
1990 11,430,602 1,261,885 12.5%
2000 12,419,293 1,500,025 12.1%
2010* 12,916,894 1,600,863 12.4%
2020* 13,236,720 1,998,764 15.0%
2030* 13,432,892 2,412,177 18.0%
* = Estimated
Source: Fiscal Focus/U.S. Census Bureau