By JONATHAN TILOVE
November 17, 1997
c. Newhouse News Service
(UNDATED) America is graying. America is browning.
And in their interplay, these two phenomena are creating a 21st century America in which an elderly population of unprecedented size will be dramatically whiter than a youth and working-age population of unprecedented diversity.
It promises a future in which increasingly divergent generational profiles seem destined, in the words of University of Michigan demographer William Frey, to create a “racial generation gap” on issues from school funding to Social Security.
Seen through this lens, the political history of California (demography’s Tomorrowland) in the last two decades can be crisply encapsulated as an aging white electorate saying “no” to spending on an increasingly minority school-age population.
And from his vantage point teaching Chicano studies at California State University, Northridge, scholar and activist Rodolfo Acuna says payback is inevitable and in order.
“There’s a growing feeling, `Why should we pay for all these senior citizens if the majority of them are white and all they were willing to pay for was prisons?” asks Acuna.
But from the other coast bellwether, Florida, Ralph Guarino, a white retiree in West Boca Raton who will turn 75 New Year’s Eve, says his generation is legitimately wary of tax and crime rates it cannot and should not have to bear, burdens he feels are in part imported from abroad.
“Illegal immigrants are a sore point,” says Guarino, a decorated veteran of World War II and an electrical engineer who worked on weapons systems at Westinghouse. “They come up in droves and upset the tranquility of people trying to enjoy life in their twilight.”
“We worked hard,” says Guarino speaking for his generation. “We really deserve to have a decent existence and anyone or any group that wants to interfere with that is going to face trouble with us.”
Already, America in the 1990s is a nation in which there is a conspicuous correspondence between old and white. But, according to Frey’s analysis of Census projections, over the next 30 years it will become unmistakable.
In 2025, according to Frey’s analysis, in actual numbers there will be fewer white Americans under age 65 than there were in 1995, even as the under-65 population of Hispanic and Asian Americans doubles. The under-65 population of black Americans will increase by a third.
But, over the same 30 years, the white elderly population will swell by two-thirds _ to 47 million.
Most stunningly, there will be more white Americans over 65 than under 18, in utter contrast with the Hispanic, black and Asian populations, which will remain overwhelmingly more young than old.
In sum, by 2025, more than three-quarters of the elderly, but barely half the children in America will be white.
“I’m not going to worry about 30 years from now,” says Jay Slavin, an elder activist, who is white. But from her vantage point at the intersection of aging and immigration in Delray Beach not far from where Guarino lives in south Palm Beach County, Fla., Slavin knows what it’s going to look like.
“The country will be tan,” she says, ticking off immigration, higher black and Hispanic birthrates and, ultimately, intermarriage as the reasons why. “We won’t have white and brown and Hispanic Americans. Everybody will be tan.”
In fact, the new racial/generational landscape is being shaped by two seismic demographic shifts.
One is the explosive growth of a younger-than-average minority population. That is a consequence of immigration, which for the last 30 years _ and in all likelihood the next 30 years _ originates in Latin America and Asia. Also, even as white women now have on average fewer than two children each, Hispanic women on average have three children each, and black women, a little more than two.
The second big event is the aging of the Baby Boom _ those born between 1946 and 1964 _ into the largest, longest-lived and most politically potent elderly population in history. It will create a retiree generation even whiter than the Boom itself because average black life expectancy is seven years shorter than white, with black male life expectancy still shy of 65.
The net effect is that by 2025, a retiring Baby Boom generation will be dependent on a proportionally smaller but ethnically and racially more diverse workforce to foot the bill for what are essentially pay-as-you-go programs like Social Security and Medicare.
More exactly, the number of workers paying Social Security taxes per beneficiary will have gone from 16.5 in 1950, to 3.3 today to 2.2 by 2025, by which time 38 percent of the working-age population will be black, Hispanic or Asian.
The intertwining of these trends could, of course, yield a karmac convergence, in which older whites invest until it hurts in the lives of youngsters of all colors, realizing their fate and that of their children depends on it.
Ben Wattenberg has hailed immigration as the easy answer to the Social Security dilemma _ “Not a bad deal: someone else’s children paying for our parents’ pensions.
But Wattenberg’s remedy is Peter Brimelow’s prescription for disaster. “What happens when the immigrants retire? _ more immigrants?,” Brimelow asks in his book, “Alien Nation.” “And the spectacle of poor young workers of color being taxed to support rich old white retirees is a social San Andreas Fault in English, Spanish or anyone’s language.”
Or, as California political scientist Frederick Lynch, author of “The Diversity Machine,” puts it, “`Blade Runner’ meets `Cocoon.”’
Look at Florida.
In 2025, according to Frey’s analysis, the United States will have almost precisely the same proportion of old and young that Florida has today, and almost precisely the same size gap between the whiteness of its older and its younger populations.
“The issue is between aid to older people and aid to little children,” says demographer Harold Hodgkinson. “It’s Sophie’s choice.”
And Sophie has chosen.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation each year ranks the states on a range of indicators of child well-being and Florida consistently has among the very worst composite scores. This year it ranked 47th, propelled by its high percentage of teen dropouts, violent juvenile crime, child death and child poverty.
Former Commerce Secretary Peter Peterson notes that nationally, young children are now three time more likely than the elderly to fall below the poverty line. He calculates the federal government now spends 12 times more per capita on those over 65 than those under 18.
All this need not bear the imprint of malevolent or greedy old people _ merely politically powerful ones with expensive needs.
According to the state Department of Elder Affairs, there are now more than 350,000 Floridians with some stage of Alzheimer’s disease _ more than the population of Tampa. Florida’s annual Medicaid nursing home costs have gone from $200 million in 1985 to $1.1 billion in 1996. The “moderate” estimate has them reaching $8 billion by 2010.
Slavin and Bobbe Taffel, who serve together in the private, Florida Silver-Haired Legislature, argue that, as Taffel a 40-year-resident of Palm Springs, puts it, “Senior citizens support schools more than anyone else. They know children are the future. It’s their children and grandchildren.”
But Palm Beach County is 85 percent white, and the public school population is only 55 percent white. Portable classrooms are a permanent fixture at routinely overcrowded schools. And last year only half of the county’s black high school students, and only 7 out of 10 Hispanic students, passed a competency test required for graduation. Nine out of 10 white students passed. It is a statistic, echoed across the country, with extreme peril for the future workforce and social peace.
Even with their real grandchildren, old people are often rattled by young people.
“That’s absolutely right about it being frightening,” says Slavin, noting that her compadres at Rainberry Bay, the senior community in Delray Beach where she has lived 20 years, are “terribly, terribly frightened. That’s why they live in a community like this. That’s why a great many people don’t go out at night.”
And that’s why they were up in arms against a proposed bowling alley nearby that would draw young people closer. “They don’t want them near them,” says Slavin.
“There is a term,” says Ralph Guarino. “Splendid isolation.”
Guarino has, he regrets, not quite found it.
His comfortably middle-class River Oaks development in West Boca is not strictly a retirement community, though last year two families were fined $425 each when their young children were found guilty of two counts of tree climbing and one count of throwing stones in the community pool.
But, in a county with more golf courses (189) than any in the nation, where in one gated community after another the putting green is now as close as you get to a town green, Guarino says he is “not living in the grand style I’d like to be accustomed to.”.
But Guarino says even the gates cannot keep out crime he blames at least in part on the immigrant influx from Haiti and throughout Latin America, an influx that swamps the schools and social services and sets society “churning.”
Guarino’s ultimate plea: “Leave me alone; let me enjoy these golden years.”
That’s an issue familiar to Clemencia Ortiz, executive director of the Latin American Immigrant and Refugee Organization in West Palm Beach.
“The people who have the most children in the schools are the Latino families,” says Ortiz, a Colombian immigrant. “But this is also the land of the retirement. They don’t have children in the schools; they don’t really have a stake in the schools and they are the ones in power.”
“I have attended community meetings,” Ortiz recalls. “They are very adamant. They are very, very angry. They say we do not want our tax money educating illegal children. That’s their voice. That’s what they say.”
Moreover, the elderly are powerful beyond their numbers.
In 1994, the last year for which a complete national breakdown is available, only 6 percent of Hispanic males between the ages of 18 to 20 reported voting (37 percent of Hispanic males that age were not citizens), compared to 69 percent of white males between 65 and 74.
The elderly are clearly the most powerful voting bloc in Palm Beach County, where even a false rumor about infidelity to Social Security can prove fatal.
Even infirmity is barely an obstacle when the voting precinct is right in the senior citizen complex. “You can get there on a bad walker,” says Jim Kane of Florida Voter.
A recent study by MIT economist James Poterba examining school spending in all 50 states between 1960 and 1990 found there was a sharp correlation between an increasing elderly population and diminished per-pupil spending, a correlation that spiked even higher when the student population was not white.
It is a pattern that conforms with school funding votes in Florida and California, and in national attitude surveys.
In one particularly telling case, University of Houston political scientist Kent Tedin examined last year’s defeat of a $390 million school bond for the Houston Independent School District, which has very few white students. Only 6 percent of all adults voted and elderly whites, who were a third of the electorate, were also the most opposed to the bond. Interestingly, elderly blacks were the most supportive of the bond but minority turnout was not sufficient to overcome the old white vote.
Clearly, as the population ages, education spending will face an increasingly resistant electorate.
But Mary Wilkerson, a black woman who directs the reading program at Belle Glade Elementary, a mostly minority school in the poor sugar cane country at the west end of Palm Beach County, offers some compelling “what-goes-around-comes-around” images.
“If you don’t want them breaking into your house you better invest in their education,” she says.
Then, noting how frequently black and Hispanics work the low-wage jobs taking care of old folks, many of them white, in hospitals, retirement communities and nursing homes, she reasons that it would be better to have someone serving lunch, emptying the bed pan or wiping the dribble off one’s chin who did not feel they had been “grudgingly” educated on account of their color.
Wilkerson has a warning: “We’ve got to educate people now and do it in such a way they won’t begrudge having to turn around and do these things for the elderly.”
`Old White Belt’ Will Protect Interests of Elderly
By JONATHAN TILOVE
c.1997 Newhouse News ServiceÆMDNMØ
(UNDATED) As of today, there is no state in the nation with more elderly people than young people. None comes even close.
But by 2025, according to Census projections analyzed by University of Michigan demographer William Frey, there will be 10 states with more people 65 and older than under 18, and a handful of others teetering on that threshold.
Because they will tend to be among the whitest states, they may come to comprise an “Old White Belt” and serve as a bulwark for the interests of white retirees nationally in what may develop as race- and ethnicity-tinged generational struggles on issues like Social Security and Medicare.
Three of the states projected to be more old than young in 2025 are the prime retirement destinations of Florida, North Carolina and Nevada _ each of which will be a little better than 70 percent white.
The others, all better than 80 percent white, will be Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, Oregon and West Virginia. The projections indicate that edging next closest to elder dominance will be Pennsylvania, which will be 80 percent white, North Dakota, which will be 88 percent white, and Vermont, which will be 96 percent white.
In these states, Frey predicts, “Their representatives in Congress and their public opinion will be more geared to what’s going on with the Social Security Trust Fund and Medicare than with schools or social service programs for the younger generation.”
By contrast, the few large, far more racially and ethnically diverse states that are the prime destination for immigrants _ California, New York, Texas, Illinois, and to a lesser extent Massachusetts and New Jersey _ will have to contend more directly with competing interests, and will tend to be more sympathetic to concerns like education, day care and job training.
The older, whiter states will have a distinct political advantage, however. At present, the big-dollar programs for the elderly come out of Washington, whereas most spending on schools is state and local.
Thus, the younger, more diverse states will be largely on their own in attending to their child populations, whereas Social Security, Medicare and the like will demand the contributions of everyone everywhere, and will be especially dependent on those states with larger working-age populations.
In other words, says Frey, “The immigrant belt will be asked to bear the burdens of the old white belt.”
Furthermore, because of the inevitable lag time between immigration, political activism and the wielding of real political power, the younger, more diverse populations will seize power more slowly. And even when they catch up locally, their concentration in a handful of large states will diminish their effective power in Washington.
In the most obvious example, by 2025, California, with an estimated population of nearly 50 million _ nearly 15 percent of the nation _ will be a third white and 43 percent Hispanic. But even as its state and federal representatives come to mirror that population, California will still have only two senators, the same as Oregon, with just 4.3 million people, or Montana with its 1 million.