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Q and A with Henry Bostic

by Mark Peres

December 3,2004

What is the Status of Seniors Initiative?

The Initiative is a community-based, on-going strategic planning effort to improve the lives of older adults in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. Its aims are to promote awareness of the coming surge in the senior population and to develop recommendations to the entire community for changes and improvements that will encompass all areas of senior adults’ lives. Since May 2004, volunteers have presented the United Way, the County Commissioners, the City Council and numerous community and civic groups the first fruits of their efforts – a 280-page report packed full of vital information concerning the coming increase in the senior population. The report contains seven broad recommendations. The full report and other information about the Initiative are available on the web at http://statusofseniors.charmeck.org and copies of the full report are available in every library branch.

How did the Initiative come about?

In May 2003, the Human Services Council presented the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) a “Status of Seniors” report that the BOCC had requested a year earlier. The report estimates that the more than 80,000 people 60 and older living in the county today will nearly triple by 2025 when the oldest of the Baby Boomers turn 79. Not only will the surge in older citizens significantly increase demand for senior services, but it will alter traditional ways of doing business. Experts say a labor shortage is all but inevitable as the boomers begin to retire. A National Association of Manufacturers news release forecasts that a skilled worker gap will begin in 2005 and grow to 5.3 million by 2010 and 14 million by 2020. Preparing for the expected population growth even seven years out when the first of the Baby Boomers reach 65 is something the community must address now, the report concluded, if we can hope to get ahead of the curve.

Why is the Initiative important?

More people are alive today who are 65 or older than ever before in our nation’s history. But we haven’t seen anything yet. In l960, only one American in 10 was
65 or older. Today, that ratio is about one in eight, and it will reach one in six within 30 years. Charlotte-Mecklenburg must be ready for a time in the not-too-distant future when there will be only 2 workers for each retiree over age 65.

Is a Senior-Friendly community out of step with a city intent on attracting a young creative class?

Certainly not. Becoming a “Senior Friendly Community” simply means that our community will provide a wide range of social and economic opportunities and support for all citizens. It means we value seniors’ contributions, we promote positive intergenerational relations, we consider the needs and interests of seniors in our planning, we respect and support seniors’ desire to live independently and we acknowledge the primary role that families, friends and neighbors play in sustaining older adults. The Carolinas have become one of the leading retirement destinations. Part of our appeal is in our weather and our cost of living. Another reason is that more and more parents are moving to the greater Charlotte area to be close to their children and their grandchildren. For our community to be as attractive as it can be to any age group, it must be attractive to all age groups.

How can citizens help?

The Status of Seniors Initiative is a volunteer driven effort. We welcome anyone who wants to help develop ideas and strategies to ensure that Mecklenburg County becomes an even more senior-friendly community. To get involved, call John Highfill, special projects coordinator at Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services, 704-336-3150 or highfjr@co.mecklenburg.nc.us.

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