Minnesota is taking its first steps to plan for a more age-friendly society.
Gov. Tim Walz this week launched a broad-based effort that will involve nine state agencies, tribal leaders, local governments, nonprofits, businesses and private citizens to address the unprecedented demographic shift unfolding in the state.
Minnesota has among the highest life expectancies in the nation. Sometime in the coming year, the state is expected to cross a demographic threshold in which there will be more people 65 and older than school-aged children.
The oldest baby boomers are about 73 now, and adjusting to the inevitable aging of this massive generation will affect all aspects of life: housing, transportation, health care, financial security, employment and the need for social services.
“This work cannot be accomplished by any one state agency,” Walz said in the executive order, “but instead must be a collective effort that requires coordination, collaboration, innovation and focus across state agencies.”
The Governor’s Council on an Age-Friendly Minnesota likely will be formed during the first few months of next year. The purpose will be to develop a comprehensive plan for the state and suggest policies for lawmakers to discuss during the 2021 session.
The council will include representatives from the Minnesota Board on Aging, Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, the Metropolitan Council and the state Departments of Commerce, Employment and Economic Development, Health, Human Services, Transportation, and Veterans Affairs.
“Minnesota has been doing a lot of good work across many different agencies, but we haven’t had the mechanism to pull it together and prioritize it across the board,” said Kari Benson, executive director of the Minnesota Board on Aging. “That’s key. We need to connect that work and really raise the profile.”
The governor’s announcement came as part of a summit on Wednesday sponsored by the Minnesota Leadership Council on Aging, which has been pushing the state to establish a framework with broad vision that also will allow cities and counties the flexibility to respond to specifics of their communities.
It sets Minnesota on a path to follow a five-year process established by the World Health Organization and AARP to help municipalities, tribal governments and states address such issues as ageism in health care and the workplace, disparities between urban and rural areas, and policies that prevent flexible housing options for older adults.
To date, 424 communities, six states and Puerto Rico are participating in the AARP’s “age-friendly” communities network, where the goal is to share ideas to overcome challenges and to harness untapped potential of an aging population. Specifically, age-friendly or livable communities have walkable streets, multiple housing and transportation options, access to key services and options for residents to participate in community activities.
Minnesota members of the AARP network include Minneapolis, Maple Grove, Northfield, Alexandria and Hennepin County.
“It’s not a certificate of achievement — it’s a commitment to work going forward,” said Will Phillips, the director of AARP Minnesota, about the program, which only recently broadened the “age-friendly” designation to include states.
“States can do a lot to knock down barriers, to create policies that can incent even more work to happen at the local level,” Phillips said.
Walz told those gathered for the summit that while creating the council is a first step, it comes through an executive order that could be reversed in future administrations. He said he hopes the group’s work will lead to lasting policy changes that will make Minnesota a better place to live for all ages.
“This is a universally shared value,” Waltz said. “It’s a universally understood point that our state is so much better socially and economically if we get this right. ”