FILE - NJ nursing home, seniors, covid 5-8-2020

Mary Mack (right), a resident of senior housing, is tested for coronavirus infection May 8, 2020, in Paterson, New Jersey. Content Exchange

(The Center Square) – New Jersey’s population has more gray hair than it did nine years ago, according to figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The number of residents older than 65 increased from 1.19 million in 2010 to 1.475 million in 2019. The number of residents 45 and older increased from 3.6 million to 3.9 million between the same time period.

Nearly 44 percent of the Garden State’s population is older than 45, up from 41 percent in 2010. The state’s under-18 population decreased from two million to 1.95 million.

The total population number for New Jersey for 2019 was about 8.9 million, down by about 4,000 people from 2018.

New Jersey mirrors the rest of the U.S. population which is also getting older, according to the Census Bureau.

“The first Baby Boomers reached 65 years old in 2011,” said Dr. Luke Rogers, chief of the Census Bureau’s Population Estimates Branch. “Since then, there’s been a rapid increase in the size of the 65-and-older population, which grew by over a third since 2010. No other age group saw such a fast increase. 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.”

An aging population presents a myriad challenges and concerns for New Jersey lawmakers, according to Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen, who chairs the Assembly Aging and Senior Services Committee.

“As our population grows older, we need to do more to make our communities more livable, this includes increasing access to transportation and programs that assist older adults in meeting their needs, whether it be going grocery shopping, spending a day out in the community with friends or family and getting to doctors’ appointments,” Vainieri Huttle said in an email interview. “Additionally, while many seniors want to age in place within their communities, many struggle to meet this goal, often resulting in them moving into long-term care facilities such as assisted living or nursing home facilities.”

The COVID-19 pandemic revealed challenges to the state’s long-term care facilities.

“Our long-term care system is in grave need of reform,” Vainieri Huttle said. “There is a great deal of work to be done to keep all of our seniors healthy and safe.”

Vainieri Huttle is working on a bill that would create a Senior Isolation Prevention Program in the state’s long-term care facilities. Many residents couldn’t see their families during the state of emergency for fear of spreading the virus.

“If enacted, this legislation would require the Department of Health to ensure all long-term care facilities have an isolation prevention plan in place for periods of public emergencies as well as technology capabilities in place to ensure that residents can communicate with their loved ones no matter the circumstances,” she said.

As people age, some worry about making ends meet when they retire. Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill in 2019 that requires employers with 25 or more staff members to participate in a retirement savings program.

“This program has given New Jerseyans an incredible opportunity to ensure that they are prepared for their retirements as seniors,” Vainieri Huttle said.

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