Minnesota policymakers plan for a rapidly aging population
Minnesota’s aging population means state lawmakers and other policymakers will have plenty of challenges in the years ahead regarding long-term care, an increasing number of disabled people and a shrinking workforce.
“Everyone knows it’s coming,” said Susan Brower, the Minnesota State Demographer. “I fear that we will see people acting surprised as it unfolds.”
Brower testified at the first meeting of a new “Task Force on Aging” created by the Minnesota Legislature during the 2023 legislative session. It’s made up of state lawmakers and experts on aging, disabilities and workforce issues. Their goal is to create a report for the legislature by January 2025.
“If we are fortunate to live to a long and ripe age we will age into disability so, how do we serve our individuals with disabilities?” asked task force chair Rep. Ginny Klevorn (DFL-Plymouth) at the outset of the meeting, posing one of many questions policymakers will need to address.
Brower showed the task force members the numbers that will be driving policy discussions now and in the future. Since 1990, the number of Minnesotans 65 or older has risen from about 546,000 to nearly 1.2 million. About 16.6% of the state’s population is now older than 65, but that will soon grow to 20%. Nationally, 16.8% of the population is over 65.
As the population ages and people retire, there are fewer new workers entering the workforce to make up for the retirees.
“This workforce shortage, this slower labor force growth, was no surprise,” Brower said. “We saw this coming for decades.”
That will have implications for everything from long-term care to tax collections and future state budgets.
“Tax revenues may be impacted by our aging population as well,” said Brower. “Our federal and state tax collection systems are based on income and spending largely which have a very clear pattern over the life course.”
In other words, the older people get, the less they earn in retirement, and they buy fewer cars, appliances and other big-ticket items.
“This is important because the policies we put in place to address aging and the funding expectations…we’re bringing policies into alignment with our future demographics,” said Brower.
Joe Gaugler of the University of Minnesota Center for Healthy Aging and Innovation puts a positive spin on an aging, but relatively healthy population.
“The fact that we look like this as a society is actually a major public health achievement,” he says, adding that the state needs to find ways to tap into this healthy, older population in positive ways.
“Yes, this poses challenges,” Gaugler added. “I think there are also amazing opportunities to take advantage of as well…and framing this as a crisis or a tsunami I don’t think is going to lead us to good solutions.”