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South Carolina's 65-plus population soars as the 'silver tsunami' continues

miwa dancing.jpg (copy) (copy)

Miwa Shea (left) and Bertha Hall, both 89, spend their morning line dancing at the Hanahan Senior Center in April 2018. File/Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

South Carolina's Department of Aging calls it the "silver tsunami."

The aging of the Baby Boom generation has been playing out across the state and nation, with impacts on everything from housing and medical care to labor markets and the financial industry.

From 2010 through mid-2019, the Palmetto State's 65-plus population grew by 305,149, while the population under 65 grew by just 218,201. That's according to new census estimates published Thursday.

Some older residents are active, independent and financially secure. Others struggle with medical problems and cannot drive. About a third have no financial resources but Social Security.

“We do see seniors who are in their homes, and frail, and need services to come to them," said Jean Ott, executive director of Dorchester Seniors, a nonprofit group that received funding from property taxes in Dorchester County.

“We also see seniors who are doing Zumba (dance workouts) and wood carving and other things," she added.

The growing number of elderly South Carolinians is changing the workforce — particularly the need for more health care workers — and driving construction of senior centers, assisted living facilities and retirement communities.

It's also creating a large and partly unfilled demand for services, and putting pressure of families.

“We have waiting lists for in-home care and home-delivered meals," said Stephanie Blunt, executive director of the Trident Area Agency on Aging. “There’s only so much the government can do, to be completely honest.

“Thank goodness, a lot of times you have neighbors looking out for neighbors," she said.

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown in some added challenges with providing in-person and home-delivered services because older residents are most at risk from COVID-19. That's kept many older residents at home, while also making it risky for people, including family members, to visit them.

“Isolation is a huge, huge issue," Ott said. “You’re isolated, a majority of the hot (news) topics are depressing — it’s not a positive thing."

Simply getting groceries or a ride to see a doctor is a huge challenge in the more rural parts of the state.

"Transportation is the biggest need for the senior population," said Ott. "There are no good answers because it’s very expense."

In South Carolina, more than 18 percent of state residents were 65 or older last summer. In 2010, less than 14 percent were.

Nationwide, Maine was the state with the largest share of its population in the 65-plus group, at 21.2 percent, closely followed by Florida.

The Baby Boom has been working its way through the nation's shifting demographics like a pig through a python — a large bulge moving inexorably from one end to the other. Baby Boomers are those born from 1946 through 1964.

Since 2010, the nation's 65-plus population has increased by more than 34 percent.

"No other age group saw such a fast increase," said Luke Rogers, chief of the Census Bureau’s Population Estimates Branch. "In fact, the under 18 population was smaller in 2019 than it was in 2010, in part, due to lower fertility in the United States.”

In South Carolina, the older population has been growing even faster, with the 65-plus group growing 48.3 percent. Within that group, the number of residents 75 or older has increased by more than 100,000 this decade.

“You have a lot of working, adult caregivers who are trying to take care of elderly loved ones," said Blunt. “They need someone to take care of mom or dad while they work, and there’s no free service for that."

Trident Area Agency on Aging offers some help, with need-based grants that pay for temporary help to give caregivers take a break, she said.  

"We offer some in-home services based on need, but it’s not an infinite pot of money," Blunt said.

A large portion of South Carolina's silver tsunami has been arriving from other states, which account for most of the rapid population growth seen since 1970.

In the Myrtle Beach metro area, for example, the population has been one of the fastest-growing in the nation even though there are more deaths than births there every year.

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Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552. Follow him on Twitter @DSladeNews.

David Slade is a senior Post and Courier reporter. His work has been honored nationally by Society of Professional Journalists, American Society of Newspaper Editors, Scripps foundation and others. Reach him at 843-937-5552 or dslade@postandcourier.com

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