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Census: Over-90 population more likely to be in poverty

Growing group also more likely to suffer from disabilities

PHOENIX — The nation’s fast-growing population of those 90 and older is more likely to be in poverty or suffer from disabilities than other groups, the U.S. Census Bureau reports.

In its first look at this demographic, the bureau found that the national population of those 90 and older has tripled in the past three decades. Among that group, 14.5 percent live in poverty, compared to 9.6 percent of those ages 65 to 89, the report found.

Wan He, a Census Bureau demographer and co-author of the report, said that Arizona and other states, as well as families, could face a financial burden as this group grows.

“They are more likely to be disabled and to live alone or in a nursing home, and that will have an impact on health care costs,” she said in a phone interview.

The report concluded that nearly 85 percent of those 90 and older have at least one limitation, meaning nearly all require some type of assistance with daily tasks.

It also found that the group reached 1.9 million in 2010, accounting for about 4.7 percent of those 65 and older. It made up just 2.8 percent of the older population in 1980.

The report said the national average will reach 10 percent of the 65-and-over population by 2050.

In Arizona, those 90 and older made up 3.8 percent of those 65 and up, according to the report. That works out to around 30,000 people.

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Dennis Garvey, director of the Center for Successful Aging at Yavapai College in Prescott, said he’s concerned that Arizona’s seniors may lack access to the medical care they need.

One problem, he said, is that fewer geriatricians, or physicians who specialize in treating the aging and elderly, are available.

“With the aging of the population, it would be comforting to know that the physician that we’re going to see has a special understanding of how the physiology of the aging body works,” Garvey said in a phone interview.

Steve Jennings, AARP Arizona associate state director of advocacy, said the report illustrates the need for additional state support for this aging group, but he said this isn’t happening because Arizona is occupied with other issues.

“Decision makers from across the spectrum need to be brought together to address this problem,” Jennings said in a phone interview.

Lorraine Stewart, chief operating officer of the Maricopa County Area Agency on Aging, said the state has developed several beneficial programs to assist the aging population, including the Arizona Long Term Care System that provides nursing and in-home care services.

But the state’s financial crisis has caused about $2 million in funding cuts for the Area Agency on Aging, Stewart said, meaning it wasn’t able to provide many of the resources needed for those who are 90 and older, such as home health care programs.

“I think the pieces are there,” Stewart said in a phone interview. “What’s lacking sometimes is the funding.”

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American Community Survey Reports, U.S. Census Bureau

Other findings

  • Women who are 90 or older outnumbered men by about 3 to 1 nationally from 2006-2008. In Arizona the number was about 2 to 1, with 46 men for every 100 women.
  • Nationally, 61.3 percent of those 90 or older completed high school or above.
  • The national population of those 90 and older was 88.1 percent white, 7.6 percent black, 2.2 percent Asian and about 4 percent Hispanic.
  • The annual median income for this group was $14,760, about half of which came from Social Security.
  • More than 80 percent of women 90 or older were widowed, while 40 percent of men were married.