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Baby bust bites America's rural corners

In this image, a man sits in an armchair in a nursing home room, near an open window that is brightly lit, and his bed.
James Lagasse, 84, watches a nursing home employee make his bed in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine. Photo: Marlena Sloss/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Two trends in Maine show the precarious future for the U.S., which seems woefully unequipped to handle a rapidly aging population.

What's happening: 1/5 of residents are now 65+, with 15 states expected to follow by 2026, the Washington Post reports. And nursing homes are closing and struggling to find long-term care workers. That’s not helped by Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance — which have limited offerings for long-term care coverage.

The big picture: America's 85 and older population will spike 200+% between 2015 and 2050, while the under 65 population will increase just 12%, per the Post.

  • That trend includes aging health care workers, who are disproportionately older in rural areas.

Between the lines: “The U.S. is just starting this journey, and Maine is at the leading edge,” Maine Council on Aging's Jess Maurer told the Post. “As we are living longer, all the systems that have always worked for us may have to be changed.”

  • That includes the need for nearly 8 million more long-term care workers in the years to come, the Post cites.
  • It could also increase pressure for expansions of visas for medical professionals to immigrate to the U.S.
  • The systemic nature of this problem could also require a more expansive Medicare benefit for the elderly.

The bottom line: These trends have been coming for a long time, with our political system proving itself woefully inadequate for the challenge. Now it's left to our children and theirs to pick up the tab.

Go deeper: The global aging trend is leading to millions of empty homes