By Himanshu Rath
In the USA, the role of the younger healthcare workforce from larger countries like India has increased significantly over the years. The number of Americans aged 65 and over increased from 2010 to 2020 at the fastest rate since 1880 to 1890 and reached 55.8 million, a 38.6% increase in just 10 years.
The US elderly population is projected to touch the 100 million-mark by 2060, and then the 65-and-older age group’s share of the total population will rise up to 24%. Further, by 2060, the number of 85-plus will triple, and the country will add a half million centenarians. This demographic transformation caused by a rapidly aging population is new for the United States.
More Americans need support and care in old age
Though in the USA, older persons are working longer compared to other parts of the world. By 2022, 25% of American men and about 17% of women ages 65 and older were in the labour force. These levels are projected to rise further as population aging is still rising in the country. It has been also observed that in many parts of the USA — especially counties in the rural Midwest—older men have to work and depend on them because disproportionate shares of young people have moved elsewhere for better opportunities and life.
Over dependence for healthcare needs
Old people in America normally have to depend on retirement homes and old age healthcare services as their family members and close relatives rarely find it practical or feasible to take care of their aging family members. On average, a senior American has to depend on others for 15-20 years in their old age, particularly for healthcare-related needs. Dependence for healthcare needs in old age is the most urgent issue that is emerging very fast.
In the US, more seniors are divorced compared with previous generations. It is estimated that the share of divorced women ages 65 and older increased to 15%, and for older men up to 11%. Further, over 26% of women ages 65 to 74, 39% of women ages 75 to 84, and 55% of women ages 85 and older are living alone in the US. This section of the elderly population has to face more critical healthcare-related issues.
The aging of the baby boom generation could fuel more than a 50 percent increase in the number of Americans ages 65 and older requiring nursing home care, to about 1.9 million in 2030 from 1.2 million in 2017.
In coming years, demand for elder care will also be driven by a steep rise in the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease, which could more than double by 2050 to 13.8 million, from 5.8 million today.
It is estimated that the large share of older persons also means that social security and Medicare expenditures will increase from a combined 8.7 percent of gross domestic product today to 11.8 percent by 2050.
With this swelling number of older people, the country could see greater demands for healthcare, in-home caregiving and assisted living facilities. It could also affect Social Security.
Young Indian workforce – A boon to Ageing USA
India, which has the highest number of medical colleges in the world, is one of the largest exporters of healthcare workers to the developed world — countries in the US, Europe, the Gulf region, etc. Data available from 2017 by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows there were 69,000 doctors from India working in the UK, US, Canada, and Australia, and 56,000 Indian nurses working in these four countries in the same year.
The share of foreign-born doctors in countries like the US is more than 30 percent and foreign-born nurses are over 20 percent. India is one of the biggest sources of nurses in the USA.
Indian healthcare workers, including doctors, laboratory technicians, nurses, pharmacists, and support staff, are essential in ensuring timely delivery and care for the population. Indian medical staff are among the most sought-after healthcare professionals globally.
The global healthcare worker shortage has resulted in a sharp uptick in demand for Indian healthcare workers. Indian healthcare workers are highly valued in the international market where their skills are in demand.
Young Indian workforce in the US
India is the youngest country in the world, with an average age of 29 years, and home to a fifth of the world’s youth population. In 2021, Indian immigrants to the US tended to be younger than the overall foreign-born population. Their median age was 41 years old, compared to 47 for all immigrants. This is largely due to the high number of working-age persons: 80 percent of all Indian immigrants aged 18 to 64, versus 77 percent of the overall foreign-born population.
Challenges before the Indian healthcare workforce
Indian-American frontline healthcare workers are facing the Green Card backlog and they are urging lawmakers and the Biden administration to resolve the issues. India has a huge population of educated and skilled younger people, who need job opportunities. On the other hand, friendly countries like the USA need a younger workforce to deal with healthcare and support related needs of its aging population. In such a scenario, the young Indian migrant workforce can be a boon to the USA.
Himanshu Rath is head of the Agewell Foundation USA Inc. It is a 501(c)(3) registered Non-Profit initiative, committed to working for the welfare of destitute Old People desperately needing assistance.