State-level results from the United States 2020 Census were released late last year and the results were striking: America is getting older, fast.
All 50 states and D.C. saw the proportion of their Age 65 and Older population grow between 2010 and 2020.
At the other end of the age distribution, 49 of 50 states saw the proportion of their Under 18 population fall, with only North Dakota and the District of Columbia experiencing increases in their proportions of this young cohort.
It’s this change at both ends that’s causing the aging of the population to occur so rapidly.
Growth in the Age 65+ percentage from 2010 to 2020 ranged from 1.0% (DC: 11.4% to 12.4%) to 5.4% (Vermont: 14.6% to 20%). Maine had the highest proportion of the Age 65+ cohort in 2020 at 21.2% and Utah the lowest at 11.4%. This was a fairly large increase over 2010 when the maximum and minimum were 17.3% (Florida) and 7.7% (Alaska), respectively.
The Baby Boomer generation started to hit their 60s in the mid-2000s, so America has been getting older for some time. What is different about the 2020 Census is that the Age 65+ cohort is overtaking the Under Age 18 cohort in some states for the first time. Maine, Vermont, Florida, and West Virginia have a higher proportion of Age 65+ than Under Age 18, which was not the case in 2010.
And the rate of growth in the Age 65+ cohort suggests that many more states will follow by 2030. States likely to have more Age 65+ than Under Age 18 residents by 2030 are New Hampshire, Delaware, Hawaii, Montana, Oregon, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Michigan.
What does this demographic shift mean?
For court systems, there could be three main areas of concern:
- Higher age-related caseloads. Over the coming years and decades, there could be a sharp increase in the number of elder abuse, fraud, and health care-related cases. In addition, the number of adult guardianship determinations and estate/will contests should rise.
- Access issues for courthouses. Courthouse facilities will need to consider higher traffic and usage by older court users. Smaller courthouses may need retrofitting to accommodate more wheelchairs, walkers, and scooters. Planners will need to consider whether existing elevators and stair lifts designed for handicap access are adequate, an issue that will likely affect smaller and older courthouses the most. Considerations should also be extended beyond physical facilities to court processes like filing, payment platforms, proceedings scheduling, and online resources. It may even be advantageous for courthouses to staff an Elder Advocate Office to help older citizens use the court effectively.
- Transportation network difficulties. For older citizens that still drive, is the courthouse in a location that is safely accessible? Are there alternative transportation arrangements for those who no longer drive? Would it make sense for retirement communities and senior centers to set up rooms equipped with conferencing capabilities to mitigate the stress of traveling to big city courthouses?
For court systems and court planners, there are many questions that will have to be answered over this decade and beyond. As the Census Bureau releases more 2020 Census information at the county and city level, additional insights into America’s aging population will come into view. But the overall message is clear: as the Age 65+ population shifts from 1 in 5 citizens to 1 in 4 in many states, we should all be thinking about how to accommodate a rapidly growing older population.