More Michiganders live alone

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Capital News Service 

LANSING – Living alone is increasingly common throughout Michigan and the rest of the world, a trend worrisome for  older folks,  particularly during the pandemic.

 To reduce such concerns, Michigan has bolstered programs to help older people living solo to connect socially. 

More than 2.4 million of Michigan’s population is 60 and up, and 41% of them live alone, according to a state plan on aging.  

“Historically, social isolation has been a concern for our older population,” said Scott Wamsley, the deputy director for the Aging and Adult Services Agency of the Department of Health and Human Services. 

COVID-19 is making the problem more profound, he said. 

Already, Michigan offers programs to help older adults live alone safely and socially. With promised investment in broadband, the programs should become even more accessible, especially for those living in rural areas like the Upper Peninsula, Wamsley said. 

For more opportunity, adult children and grandchildren may have to move from rural areas, he said.  

“We’ve heard about that in the Upper Peninsula where some of the younger adults need to move away for employment purposes, and therefore that family network is now distanced,” Wamsley said. 

The agency usually offers programs to adults 60 and older, but some programs are available to those over 55. 

It recently developed an interactive program called GetSetUp, which acts as a virtual education and socialization platform, helping older folks learn to use things like video conferencing and telemedicine as more activities and services go online, he said.

To cater to the rapidly aging U.S. population, Ashton Verdery, an associate professor of sociology and demography at Penn State University, predicts demand for places that can foster community among older adults will rise. 

“We’ll go from condos with pools and bars to condos with bridge clubs and things like that,” Verdery said. 

Older adults, however, aren’t the only ones living solo. 

Roughly one-tenth of Michigan residents live alone, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. 

Nationwide, the number of those living alone has nearly doubled over the past 50 years, according to the bureau’s Current Population Survey.

In comparison to the post-World War II era, where nuclear families and suburbs were all the rage, younger folks are pursuing a different lifestyle, said Tyler Augst, a government and community vitality educator with Michigan State University. 

“What we’re seeing now is some of those family dynamics are changing,” Augst said. “People aren’t having as many kids, they’re waiting longer in life to get married, they’re just not wanting that lifestyle anymore.” 

Additionally, they prefer different living quarters. 

Walkable neighborhoods in urban settings are particularly attractive, offering a chance for both environmental and monetary savings, especially important in today’s market where housing is a considerable expense, Augst said. 

“Thinking about ways to become more environmentally friendly and efficient is also a way to reduce housing costs,” he said. 

Contributing factors fueling rising solo living include economic stability, an emphasis on individualism and a substantial decrease in multi-generational households, Verdery said.

“I think, in a lot of ways, the increase in living alone is very good for society,” Verdery said. “People are able to achieve the living arrangements that they want.” 

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