State shouldn't abandon burgeoning senior population
Senior residents are projected to account for one-fourth of Hawaii's population by 2030.
POLICIES aimed at protecting the economic well-being of seniors have made Hawaii livable for many retirees. However, as life expectancy continues to increase while the nursing shortage worsens, the state will need to provide more help to programs
aimed at assisting older residents.
The trend has spanned many decades but is expected to accelerate in the years ahead. Nationally, life expectancy in the past century has risen from 50 years to 77, while Hawaii's has gone from 44 to 80. Hawaii's over-60 population increased by nearly 20 percent during the 1990s, more than twice the national rate. Those age 85 or older rose by nearly 70 percent, while the national population of the very elderly grew by 38 percent.
State tax policies have recognized the struggle of seniors to cope with inflation. Hawaii's property taxes are the lowest in the country, and exemptions are provided to homeowners age 65 and older. Income from pension plans or Social Security is exempt from Hawaii's income tax.
A survey published three years ago by the Bloomberg financial services company ranked Hawaii No. 1 in the nation in tax friendliness for an affluent couple in retirement -- those with incomes of at least $80,000 for a couple and $40,000 for a single senior citizen. Getting by is not so easy for many 60-year-plus residents, one in five of whom live 200 percent below the poverty level.
A report released by the University of Hawaii's Center on the Family warns of difficulties ahead in caring for the state's soaring elderly population. "It's a crisis society's not geared up for," Sylvia Yuen, an author of the report, told the Star-Bulletin's Robert Shikina.
In 1980, people age 60 or older comprised 12 percent of the population. That has increased to 18.1 percent and is expected to reach 27.4 percent by 2030, slightly higher than the national figure. Fortunately, Yuen pointed out, 78 percent of seniors in Hawaii live with their families, a higher percentage than on the mainland.
While these trends have continued, government funding for senior services has declined, according to Stella Wong, vice president of programs at Catholic Charities Hawaii. Those include such functions as transportation, housekeeping, shopping, translation and respite care.
Wong and Yuen agree that much of the focus should be directed at programs in which retirees can volunteer their services. Wong said more than 80 percent of the 2,000 members of her organization's Lanakila Multi-Purpose Senior Center volunteer in community programs.