Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2010 | 2:06 a.m.
Recent U.S. Census Bureau figures revealed that Nevada, which for years had touted itself as being one of the top states in terms of population growth, actually lost population in the most recent year.
That fact obviously generated a lot of attention, but there was another statistic that shouldn’t be lost on Nevada’s policymakers, a statistic that could have costly implications: The Census Bureau, as the Las Vegas Sun’s Steve Kanigher and Alex Richards reported Sunday, is projecting that the fastest-growing part of the state’s population during the next 10 years will be senior citizens. Kanigher and Richards note that policymakers not only fear that this aging population will place a burden on Nevada’s already strained health care system and social services, but that it also will create more urgency to build affordable housing.
What makes this an even more alarming situation is that Nevada, as of today, provides bare-bones services for its senior citizens. For that matter, whether it’s education or social services of just about any type, the amount this state spends is paltry.
So imagine what it will be like when even more seniors move here and there isn’t enough assistance to go around. Indeed, most of the talk about Nevada’s budget today isn’t about what services to add — most talk centers on what services will be cut to balance the state’s budget as revenue keeps dropping precipitously. It also won’t help matters that, with declining revenue, the spending pie keeps shrinking, which means the battles will become even more pitched in Carson City among the competing interests.
So don’t be surprised if you see the needs of children pitted against those of senior citizens — more textbooks vs. property tax rebate programs for seniors, for example — when the Legislature decides state spending.
Nevadans shouldn’t take comfort in the fact that the percentage increase in the number of senior citizens is based on prerecession data because the reality is that our state will have more seniors a decade from now. State demographer Jeff Hardcastle says this is likely to be the case for a couple of reasons: The middle-aged workers who flooded the state in the 1990s will likely stay and retire here, and younger people will leave Nevada to find work, unless the state’s recession eases.
Nevadans shouldn’t be surprised that senior citizens will be coming here in greater numbers in the future; they have been flocking to this state for some time. As UNR’s Sanford Center for Aging reported in 2007: “Nevada’s infrastructure of services for older adults is unprepared for the demographic tsunami which will occur as the Baby Boomer population ages.” Ironically, Nevada’s low-tax burden, which means fewer state services, has been a draw for senior citizens.
The days of putting off decisions to adequately provide for services for our senior population can’t continue — unless, of course, state leaders want to embarrassingly fall even further behind what dismal services Nevada currently offers.