By Sam Wheeler
for the Mail Tribune
Southern Oregonians older than 50 are happy to be here, but the growing demographic sees room for improvement, according to a new AARP survey.
Nearly 1,500 aging residents of Jackson and Josephine counties filled out the mail survey gauging their satisfaction with the livability and age-friendliness of communities in the region, and organizers want local policymakers to consider the results.
“This is already a very important retirement community and Oregon’s retiree population is rapidly growing,” said Bandana Shrestha, AARP Oregon director of community engagement.
“Why wouldn’t we want to build our communities so that when people do age they rely on fewer social services … and can remain connected to their communities?”
AARP expects Oregon’s 50-and-older population to swell by about 17 percent through 2032, and its 65-and-up population to grow by about 20 percent in the same span. According to the 2010 Census, 40 percent of Jackson County’s population, about 80,000 people, is over age 50.
“Part of how we are going to deal with that as a community is by building an environment that is going to allow people to remain independent for as long as they can,” said Don Bruland, AARP Oregon executive council volunteer.
Of those surveyed, 88 percent rated their community as an “excellent, very good or good” environment for people to live in as they age, but some shortfalls were identified.
Expanding Southern Oregon’s supply of affordable housing appropriate for those who are aging or coping with disabilities, increasing local job opportunities for those over 50 and creating opportunities for young and aging generations to connect socially were all identified as important issues to those polled.
Bruland, of Medford, said he and other AARP representatives plan to sit down with local and county government officials across Southern Oregon to discuss the survey’s results and consider what steps should be taken to ensure the region retains and enhances its reputation as retirement-friendly.
“This survey provides policymakers, government officials, advocates and the nonprofit and business communities information about the livability issues of interest to our aging population, and ideas to consider for successful future planning,” said Dave Toler, director of Senior and Disability Services for the Rogue Valley Council of Governments.
The regional council of governments includes representatives from more than a dozen local governments, and representatives from Jackson and Josephine counties.
Bruland said AARP will be working with RVCOG members over the coming months to introduce findings and recommendations derived from the survey.
“One of the key findings of this survey was the vast majority of people want to remain in their homes as they age. They want to remain independent,” he said.
Close to half of those surveyed by AARP said they would support policies that offer builders incentives for incorporating universal design concepts, such as wider doorways, fewer steps and handrails in homes they are building.
Nearly 80 percent of respondents said it is “extremely, very or somewhat important” to have access to good job opportunities in the region, but just 12 percent believe good job opportunities exist in Southern Oregon for those over 50.
“A lot of people think of an aging population as a sort of deficit to a community … here that demographic is contributing in a variety of ways to our communities,” Shrestha said. “Most of this population wants to remain connected to the community … that could be through work, volunteering or civic participation.”
More than 90 percent of respondents said it is important to have opportunities to connect socially with younger generations, but only 30 percent believe those opportunities exist. As a side note, just 23 percent of respondents used social media such as Facebook, Twitter or blogs.
AARP has about 50,000 members in Jackson and Josephine counties, about 31,500 of which reside in Jackson County, according to its website.
“This survey allows us to target where we want to put our energy on behalf of this population,” Shrestha said. “A lot of these things we’ve always known intuitively, now we have the data to act on.”
Sam Wheeler is a freelance writer living in Talent. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.