Key Takeaways

  • The Administration for Community Living (ACL) has released its 2021 Profile of Older Americans, an annual summary of America’s mature population.

  • Older adults age 65+ are one of the fastest-growing groups in the nation, expected to reach 80.8 million in 2040. 

  • Learn how NCOA strives to help all older adults age with health, dignity, and financial security.

With people in the U.S. aging better and living longer, older adults are one of the fastest-growing groups in the country. In fact, 80.8 million Americans will be 65+ in 2040—more than twice as many as in 2000.1

Using new insights from the ACL’s 2021 Profile of Older Americans and other sources, we’ve painted an eye-opening portrait of our nation’s older adults including key trends, challenges, and disparities.

Older adult demographics at a glance

  • There were 55.7 million adults age 65+ living in the U.S. in 2020. This included 30.8 million women and 24.8 million men.
  • Nearly one-quarter (24%) of adults age 65+ were from racially and ethnically underrepresented communities as in 2020.
  • America’s older population has grown by 38% since 2010, compared to an increase of 2% for the under-65 population.
  • Maine, Florida, West Virginia, and Vermont had the highest percentage of populations age 65+ in 2020.
  • There were 104,819 people age 100 and older in 2020—more than triple the number in 1980 (32,194).
  • Among adults age 65+ in 2021, 60% lived with their spouse or partner, while roughly 27% lived alone.
  • The 2020 median income of older adults was $26,668. From 2019 to 2020, the inflation-adjusted median income of all households headed by older adults dipped by 3.3%.1

Health of older adults

Today's older Americans are healthier overall and living independently for longer. However, most older people have at least one chronic health condition, and many are dealing with multiple health issues. In 2020, the top chronic condition among adults age 65+ was arthritis (47%), followed by:

  • Any cancer (26%)
  • Diagnosed diabetes (21%)
  • COPD, emphysema, or chronic bronchitis (11%)
  • Coronary heart disease (14%)
  • Myocardial infarction (9%)
  • Angina (4%)1

In 2021 (January-June), 58% of older adults said they were diagnosed with hypertension over the past year. In 2020, 18% of this population reported having difficulties in at least one of the following functional areas: vision, hearing, mobility, communication, cognition, and self-care.1 

Poverty among older adults

Economic insecurity is a pressing issue for our older populations. Among Americans age 65+, poverty increased from 8.9% in 2020 to 10.3% in 2021, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data. This jump resulted in 1 million more older adults who had to rely on scarce resources to get by.

Against the backdrop of rising inflation, older Americans are struggling with higher costs related to housing, utilities, groceries, and health care. Many also face diminished savings and job loss. Even for older adults who are making ends meet, a single health or other emergency can quickly tip the financial scales.

Some key facts on poverty among older adults in 2020:

  • Nearly 1 in 10 people age 65+ lived below the poverty level. Another 2.6 million older adults were classified as “near-poor.”1
  • Older women had a higher poverty rate (10.1%) than older men (7.6%).1 This is a result of wage discrimination and having to take time out of the workforce for caregiving.2
  • 6.8% of the older non-Hispanic white population was poor, compared to higher percentages of racially and ethnically underrepresented groups: 17.2% of African Americans, 11.5% of Asian Americans, and 16.6% of the Hispanic population (any race).1
  • The highest poverty rates were seen among older Hispanic women who lived alone (35.6%).1

Older populations and hunger

Poverty and hunger go hand in hand, and too many older adults don’t have enough to eat. In 2020, 5.2 million people age 60+ faced hunger and food insecurity.3 Consider these other facts on older adults and hunger:

  • Hunger has a profound impact on older adults’ health and nutrition, increasing their risk for diabetes, depression, and asthma.3
  • Hunger has a greater impact on older Americans who are Black, Hispanic, or Native American, who have lower incomes, or who have a disability.3
  • Only 48% of older adults age 60+ who are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are enrolled and receiving benefits.4 This means many people are missing out on vital assistance.
  • Roughly 1 in 4 older adults age 65+ scrimp on food and other necessities due to health care costs.5

Older adults in the workforce

Many mature adults continue to work well into retirement, whether it's out of financial necessity or personal preference. Working for longer can help older people stay physically active and mentally sharp while maintaining important social connections. Employers stand to benefit from an older workforce as well. Seasoned workers bring knowledge, experience, and reliability that can’t always be matched by their younger counterparts.

Some fast facts about older Americans and employment:

  • In 2021, 10.6 million (18.9%) Americans age 65+ were working or proactively seeking employment.1
  • Starting in 2000, the labor force participation rate of older women gradually rose to the 2021 level of 15.2%.1
  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 9.5% of the civilian labor force is expected to be older than 65 by the year 2030.6

Who is caring for older adults?

Family caregivers play a large role in the care of older adults, with many of them also juggling a job, children, and other responsibilities. In 2017-2018, 40.4 million family caregivers provided unpaid care to a family or non-family member age 65+. While 39% of family caregivers cared for someone age 85 or older, 13% cared for someone age 65 to 69.1

Older Americans are on the other side of caregiving as well. In 2016-2020, 1.1 million grandparents (age 60+) were largely responsible for the care of grandchildren under age 18 that lived with them. In 2019, among the 5.37 million people with intellectual and developmental disabilities living with a family caregiver, 24% had caregivers who were age 60+.1

NCOA's role in improving the lives of older adults

The National Council on Aging (NCOA) is proud to champion the rights of older Americans—especially women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, people with low income, and those living in rural areas. We believe every person deserves to age well, and we’re on a path to improve the lives of 40 million older adults by 2030. We will accomplish this by:

  • Helping the voices of the vulnerable be heard so every older adult has the opportunity for healthy aging regardless of gender, color, sexuality, income, or ZIP code.
  • Advocating for public policy change that supports all older adults, particularly those who are struggling, as well as the caregivers and community organizations that serve them. 
  • Empowering older adults to take charge of their own well-being by practicing falls prevention, chronic disease self-management, and mental health and wellness strategies.
  • Connecting older Americans with quality health care services that meet their needs, including affordable prescription drugs, dental care, and long-term services and supports.
  • Promoting awareness of and access to tools, resources, and knowledge that help all older adults age with dignity. This includes money-saving benefits, job training, and money management tips.

Sources

1. U.S. Administration for Community Living. 2020 Profile of Older Americans. May 2021. Found on the internet at https://acl.gov/sites/default/files/Aging%20and%20Disability%20in%20America/2020ProfileOlderAmericans.Final_.pdf

2. Justice in Aging. Older Women and Poverty. Found on the internet at https://justiceinaging.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Older-Women-and-Poverty.pdf

3. Feeding America. Facts about senior hunger in America. Found on the internet at https://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/senior-hunger-facts

4. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Food and Nutrition Service. Trends in SNAP Participation Rates: FY 2010-2017. Found on the internet at https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/trends-participation-rates-fy-2010

5. Nicole Willcoxon. Older Adults Sacrificing Basic Needs Due to Healthcare Costs. Gallup. June 15, 2022. Found on the internet at https://news.gallup.com/poll/393494/older-adults-sacrificing-basic-needs-due-%20healthcare-costs.aspx

6. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Number of people 75 and older in the labor force is expected to grow 96.5 percent by 2030. Found on the internet at https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2021/number-of-people-75-and-older-in-the-labor-force-is-expected-to-grow-96-5-percent-by-2030.htm