Growth in Elderly Population Started Declining Before the Pandemic
Older populations, those 65 and older, have been the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic with 74 percent of COVID deaths attributed to them since 2000 (over 880,000) according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
U.S. Census estimates for population show their numbers to have grown substantially less in 2020, which would be reasonable considering the number of deaths attributed to the disease.
But the decline in population growth of those 65 and older started prior to the pandemic—in 2017. Prior to that, the rate at which the population grew increased by about 20,852 people per year. Around 2013-2015, the population added around 100,000 each year.
Yet from 2016 to 2017, the population growth rate actually declined for the first time since 2002, going from 1,604,129 added in 2016 to 1,562,201 added in 2017 based on data from the World Bank compiled from U.S. statistical agencies.
When COVID deaths of those over 65 are added back in for 2020—311,391 based on Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data—total increase in the population for 2020 is where it would be assuming a linear growth from 2016 onward. Although provisional weekly data from the CDC shows a higher total of deaths for that age in each year (593,718 and 645,690 for 2020 and 2021).
According to the Census in a 2020 report, longer lifespans and low fertility rates are leading to a larger aging population compared to other age groups. But according to Census predictions, the growth in the elderly population was predicted to peak in 2030, not 2017.
Social Security Data
While Census data shows the declining growth in elderly populations, data from the Social Security Administration (SSA) doesn’t show such a decline until after the pandemic had hit and only in 2021.
Adding back in the numbers for elderly deaths from COVID-19 (311,391 in 2020 and 314,266 in 2021) adjusted for Social Security participation based on 2019 participation rate (82.3 percent of 65+ population) shows an estimated growth in Social Security participation in line with a linear growth from previous years. Age groups for Social Security recipients (largely 62+) and Census populations (65+) don’t line up but they should prove useful as general estimates.
Despite the decline in growth of the elderly population and increasing social security participation, the participation rate has been declining since 2016.
This appears largely because the elderly population, while declining in the rate of growth, is still growing rapidly and outpacing the growth in participation.
In 2013, participation was almost 84 percent of the over-65 population. In 2019, it was down to almost 82 percent.