Maybe it was watching the fireworks from amid the monuments marking the lives of Petalumans now gone at Cypress Hill Memorial Park. Maybe it was the birth of our first grandchild. Maybe it was the article on elder abuse I read on Petaluma360. Or maybe it was the loss of my sister, a boomer barely retired, but I’ve been pondering the third third of my life. And I’m sure I’m not alone.
According to the 2010 census, more than 13.1% of Petaluma residents qualify for the senior discount at Petaluma Market (shop on Thursday, folks, and receive a 10% discount if you’re 55 or older.) That’s 2% more seniors than counted in the 2000 census. For better or worse, that’s a lot of white hair.
Although I was quick to jump on the $6.50 over-60-admission to Boulevard Cinemas, a 33% savings over the adult ticket price, I’ve been slow to consider how I plan to live my life now that I’ve entered my “golden years.” I know there are benefits to age as well as drawbacks. I don’t feel any older, and I’m surprised every time I look in the mirror. I’ve only got thirty more years, forty if I’m really, really lucky. I have no immediate plans to retire, but I better figure out how to spend my time when I do because soon enough it won’t be zip lining. It might not even be climbing the stairs to my writing studio. What then?
Like most people, my husband and my first consideration is to determine how we’re going to pay our upkeep in a world of rising costs, dwindled property values, eroded pensions, inconsequential investment earnings, and miniscule social security checks—one of the drawbacks. How will we survive in the Shadow of Sonoma Mountain?
The boomer population, born 1946-1966, isn’t about to go down quietly. A Study done by two Duke University sociologists published in 2004, determined that, on the benefit side, “baby boomers are likely to extend midlife well into what used to be considered "old age." They will continue working longer, and also are likely to enjoy good health and remain "actively engaged" longer than previous generations.” I’m down with that! Maybe I will be zip lining—SonomaCanopy Tours on Bohemian Hwy. in Occidental offers discounts for the over 60 set.
Another finding from the study reveals a distinct drawback, “…at midlife, boomers have the highest wage inequality of any recent generation. Late boomers have the highest levels of poverty since the generation born before World War I. One in 10 late boomers lives in poverty at middle age.” The least well-off face higher risks of unemployment and poor health at a time when we are encouraged to remain at work longer. And boomers have saved less than previous generations. Add to that, boomers have redefined traditional family structures. Nontraditional families, those who never married, had no children or were "absent fathers" may not be able to rely on family as part of their social safety net.
Before you crawl back under the covers, Petaluma is rich in quality services for us oldsters. I’ve counted fourteen senior housing complexes, including Vintage Chateau’s 240 existing units and 68 new units to be completed this year, and several complexes operated by Petaluma EcumenicalProperties. PEP Housing originated through a group of clergy and civic leaders who wanted to provide quality affordable housing to the community's lowest income seniors. As a result of their efforts, in 1978 PEP Housing became the first non-profit housing provider to serve the needs of the people of Petaluma.
My list doesn’t include assisted living facilities such as Sunrise of Petaluma that features Alzheimer’s memory care, something about half of us are going to need by the time we’re 84—either because we have this disease, or because we’re taking care of someone who does.
Ok, so lots of us still think 84 is mythical, but many are going to reach it over the coming two decades. The average life expectancy in Petaluma is 80, 2.8 years higher than the national average. (They say it’s our clean air. Obviously the demographers haven’t spent September in “Pew-taluma!) And time is zip-lining by at an ever-accelerating pace. We better get our lunch reservations in for Senior Café at the senior center on Novak, operated by Petaluma People Services Center. Or make arrangements for Meals on Wheels, another of PPSC’s programs. Petaluma People Services Center’s mission is to improve the social and economic health of our community by providing programs that strengthen the dignity and self-sufficiency of the individual. We oldies-but-goldies can call them to arrange for a caseworker, find out programs we can benefit from, or to volunteer our time or money. They offer support, referral, advocacy and even adult classes in conjunction with SRJC.
Classes! That’s where I’ll be when I’m 84—and my darling husband better not ask me if I’m ever going to graduate. That is, if I can get there. Petaluma Green Taxi offers a 20% discount on fares to seniors as well a pre-paid vouchers. The company believes in giving back to our community and in 2011 Petaluma Green Taxi donated $1500 to PEP Housing residents. They have contracts with many of our local doctors, hospitals and clinics, another benefit to our aging population.
We may not need to call a taxi yet, but at the end of the month, several of our tribe will have birthdays. To celebrate, we’re motoring out to Occidental for a canopy tour of the coastal redwoods, and half of us will qualify for the discount. Wheeeeeeee—84, here we come!
1st published in the Petaluma Post September 2012