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Published November 18. 2011 05:01PM

For the millions on fixed income and those Baby Boomers who have already reached or will be soon moving into their retirement years, the need for preserving and even expanding senior services will continue to be a pressing national issue for years.

That fact was amplified Thursday on news that there are now nearly two million Americans 90 years or older. With the number of Boomers coming of age, that number is expected to balloon to almost nine million by 2050.

The latest longevity data reflects the great improvements in medical care, especially considering the fact that 100 years ago, fewer than 100,000 persons reached the age of 90. The new report, issued by the Census Bureau and supported by the National Institute on Aging, also made these observations concerning the people who live to be 90 and older:

• Women outnumber the men almost 3-1 in the 90-plus population;

• From 2006-08, over 14 percent of the people 90 and over lived in poverty, which was well above the over nine percent of those in the 65-to-89 age bracket who are designated as officially poor. The annual income for those 90 and older was $14,760;

• For 92 percent of those persons 90 and older, 47.9 percent of their income came from Social Security and 18.3 percent from retirement pension.

• A person's likelihood of living in a nursing facility increases with age. While only 1 percent of the people in their upper 60s are in a home, that number grows to 3 percent for those in their upper 70s and 20 percent by their early 90s.

• Among those 95 and older, the disability rate is 91 percent. Nearly all of those older than 90 and who lived in a nursing home had some disability. Four of five people living outside a nursing home also had at least one disability, which means they required help in doing errands and sometimes just moving around. The most common chronic conditions are arthritis, diabetes and Alzheimer's disease.

Given these facts, it's obvious that politicians will not be able to avoid this growing constituency. As we have already seen heading into the 2012 elections, any attempts to fiddle with programs such as Social Security and Medicare can spell political suicide.

As we live longer, the need for services will continue to increase, putting more and more pressure on the elected leaders to continue their delicate balancing act of trying to harness spending while protecting the entitlement programs that are and will continue to be a lifeline for this growing segment of our population.

By Jim Zbick

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