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Governing Publisher Discusses How State and Local Agencies Are Coping with Aging Populations
In a series of stories and live events held throughout the country, Governing magazine has been covering the challenges that state and local governments face because of the US’s aging population. Erin Waters, the magazine’s publisher, recently discussed how agencies are meeting this challenge and what surprised her most after talking with public sector officials about this important topic.
Q: What challenges do government agencies face as the US population gets older?
A: We are seeing two issues: one is the aging of the government workforce itself, the other is the growing number of older citizens who receive government services. So it’s a complex situation. Agencies must make sure that people are getting the help they need, but internally in government there’s the challenge of who will be there to carry on the work. Succession planning and retention are a major focus in government right now.
Q: Is there a role for technology to help meet these challenges?
A: There is a technology component, and it usually has to do with providing greater efficiencies and cost
savings—anything to make systems run faster and smoother. A second piece centers on the government workforce. Mobility is a big attraction for many younger workers. They want flexibility in their schedules and where they work, and mobile applications can help meet these requirements.
Q: Your organization has sponsored a series of events across the US devoted to aging. What did you hear that surprised you?
A: When we went to Iowa we found that the rural aspect of aging is a big deal there. The state is way ahead on this issue—the governor has made it priority to make sure people outside of cities are getting the services they need and that they are staying connected within local communities.
In Utah, we heard about communities for adults, but not the traditional senior centers with one age demographic. Instead, the goal is to help shift people from suburban lifestyles to environments in the downtown areas of cities where people can walk to stores and to various types of services. Utah has made a big push for this, and we think that when other states look to revitalize their downtown areas, they’ll need to realize that aging Boomers and Millennials will want similar access to services and transportation systems. So if communities look closely at revitalizing their downtown areas to serve these needs, they may have a better chance of attracting more people.
Q: What advice can you offer to help agencies with the issues of an aging population?
A: There are big solutions out there, but addressing the challenge starts with something simple: face the fact that this is an important trend. That’s number one. Number two, mobility is important, and connecting people with broadband access is going to be huge for everybody, especially in rural areas. And not just for economic development, but also to serve older citizens. Third, and this relates to challenges internal to government, set up mentoring programs using older workers and work on succession planning.
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