The math doesn’t add up for those of us among the so-called baby boomer generation, defined as anyone born between 1946 and 1964.
Since there were an estimated 73 million of us born during that period, we represent the largest chunk of the country’s work force population (40 percent) and every day an estimated 10,000 of us reach age 65.
The good news is that a whole bunch of us are reaching 65, since the alternative is not so good. The bad news is that there won’t be enough of what they call “Generation X” (those born between 1965 and 1980) to change our bedpans if we get old enough to require that service. Generation X only represents 16 percent of the work force population.
The math gets worse closer to home. If you haven’t noticed, Douglas County is getting older. In 2000 the media age was 41. It’s roughly 46 today (nearly 10 years older than the state’s median age) and will probably climb again in the next census.
Part of what someone recently referred to as the “flight of the middle class,” younger families are leaving Douglas County in search of better jobs, evidenced by the declining school enrollments. You don’t hear much about that on a state level, because those families are not leaving Oregon, but migrating instead to Salem, Portland and other areas where there are better employment opportunities.
This math comes as no surprise to those who have followed us from birth. Our generation has been a strain on our communities since we started school, creating explosive classroom overcrowding to the point that some schools worked in shifts to accommodate us.
Grab your old photo albums and see if you can find your elementary school class picture, the one with the teacher who looked like June from “Leave It To Beaver” (if you don’t know of “Leave It To Beaver” you are not a boomer). Count the number of classmates who are probably three rows deep.
“We weren’t prepared for the boomers,” said Ken Dychtwald, president and CEO of a consulting firm AgeWave in an article in the Huffington Post. “There weren’t enough hospitals or pediatricians. There weren’t enough bedrooms in homes. There weren’t enough schoolteachers, or textbooks, or playgrounds. The huge size of this generation has strained institutions every step of the way.”
So our “flash mobs” (and I use the term “flash” loosely) at the afternoon movie theater matinee should not have been a surprise. And, yes, if you want to see evidence of our aging community, go to a matinee and count the number of gray and balding heads. Mine will be in the third row from the back, probably shoving popcorn into it.
Why should we care? Outside of the bedpan changing, our generation will require a lot of help from the Generation Y and X folks. Many of us have been dealing with our own parents and know firsthand the strain that causes. No doubt we have asked ourselves more than once, “Who will do this for me when I need help?” My kid gets attitude when I ask him to take out the garbage, so I can’t imagine him stepping up when I need him to change my diaper … heaven forbid.
Then there is what I call the “whole community” factor. Most of us live here, or moved here because we enjoy all that Douglas County offers. But if younger families continue to leave, what kind of community will they leave behind and what will become of it?
Do we want empty school buildings and service industries that cannot pay enough to keep the employees they require to serve our needs?
And how will our hospital and other medical facilities keep their doors open if their customer base consists primarily of retirees on Medicaid or other medical programs that do not reimburse those facilities enough to make good business sense?
The only way to balance the hospital books is to ensure there are enough patients with the kind of medical insurance that is typically provided by an employer. The kind of employers who are struggling to keep their own doors open.
How attractive would Roseburg be to a retiree if it didn’t have its own hospital?
In fact…how attractive would this community be without its community college? I was at a meeting at Umpqua Community College earlier this week and learned that enrollment is down almost 20 percent, resulting in a fairly significant budget deficit.
We’ve been reporting on challenges facing our local school districts, with more than one of them considering shutting down a school because enrollment continues to plummet.
What’s the solution? There isn’t much we can do about the math and with boomers living longer it will take awhile before the median age in Douglas County does anything but grow.
Until then we need to do whatever we can to keep younger families here and the only real way to do that is through jobs. While we continue to monitor the spotted owl’s health (and some now wonder if logging had any impact, since its numbers continue to decline), we’ve done little to replace all those jobs that were killed in its name.
Douglas County’s median household income dropped 14 percent over the last year to a state low of $44,300, according to the Oregon Housing Blog. In contrast, the median income for Benton County (Corvallis) is $78,300.
There are some who are working hard to bring more jobs to Douglas County and we need to encourage and support those efforts. If they fail, the math paints a pretty bleak preview of Douglas County’s 2020 census.
Jeff Ackerman is publisher of The News-Review. He can be reached at 541-957-4263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.