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Old age is an opportunity.

In the 21st century, there will be many business opportunities to cater to the needs of the black elderly.

"OId age cannot be cured." So goes a proverb of the Swahili-speaking people of East and Central Africa. It is a proverb of special significance to all African-Americans in today's youth-oriented culture. For inevitably, we will all be part of that aging black population, whose vulnerable welfare and care will depend largely on our community. We must all prepare for that eventuality now.

This issue of elderly care presents problems and opportunities. Like other Americans, elderly African-Americans are living longer and their numbers are growing. In 1991, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data showed the typical 65-year-old black woman can expect to live until age 82.6. The 17.6 additional years reflect a three-quarter-of-a-year gain from the previous decade. For elderly black men, life expectancy has increased by more than a year from the previous decade. Black men age 65 can now expect to live until age 79.2. Similar aging patterns exist for the while population.

Also, the number of persons reaching age 65 is increasing. In a 1991 study, William O'Hare, head of population research at the Urban Research Institute, University of Louisville, wrote that between 1980 and 1989, the number of blacks who were age 65 or older increased by 22.1% to reach 2,555,000 (see chart). The elderly while population increased by 20.1 % during that same decade. This growth, which is expected to continue well into the 21st century, will accelerate sharply as baby boomers enter their senior years.

But the elderly of the future will be different from their parents. Many will be functionally independent, having less debt and financial obligations, more leisure time and more financial assets even though income may be lower. This group will have the cash and the will to demand quality retirement-related services, which range from cultural to financial to entertainment

Their golden years will not be trouble-free, however. Persons age 85 and older constitute the fastest-growing segment of the population. And for many of these elderly, the extra years of life will be spent coping with the chronic diseases and disabilities associated with the aging process.

Demographic and economic trends indicate a potential entrepreneurial and investment bonanza in the areas of retirement-related, medical and long-term care services for the elderly and their families. Companies will compete to meet the need for medical services to combat arthritis, osteoporosis, Alzheimer's and other afflictions that strike the elderly. There will also be the need for long-term care services to assist the elderly with limitations in the basic activities of daily living, from bathing to meal preparation.

Due to economic gains made by many middle-aged and younger blacks, families will be able to afford and demand professionally provided long-term care services based in the community. The demand will not result from changes in the economic status of the elderly, but from the economic gains in labor force participation by blacks, and particularly in the earnings of married black women.

Changes in the market value of black women's time will also affect the way black families provide long-term care for their disabled elderly. Historically, this time was valued at a relatively low level. It was less expensive for black women to limit their working and use the time to provide long-term care themselves. If black women's economic gains continue, it will simply become too costly in income loss for many to limit their employment. The result: If the health care market is sensitive enough to offer the quality of care that is desired, black families will purchase increasing amounts of professionally provided long-term care service for their disabled elderly.
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Author:Headen, Alvin E., Jr.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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