LeadingAge Magazine · March-April 2020 • Volume 10 • Number 02

Muddling for the Middle

February 16, 2020 | by Gene Mitchell

A preview of this issue of LeadingAge magazine.

When it comes to offering more options for the older adults most often described as “middle market,” I guess you could say I’m an incrementalist. I’ll bet most LeadingAge members are as well.

Gene Mitchell
Gene Mitchell

Incrementalism is an approach to policymaking that is attributed to Charles Lindblom, a Yale economics professor. He emphasized the value of a series of small policy changes over time as a way of reaching broader goals in the future. Honestly, it’s the way most of us live our lives, and the way our field has grown over the decades.

How can we serve that group of people with too much income to qualify for subsidized housing and other benefits, but not affluent enough to afford a typical entry-fee retirement community? That has become a major topic of discussion among providers who offer residential options.

It concerns a huge number of people, so it’s daunting if you look at it from 30,000 feet. It can induce despair if you are temperamentally inclined to think in terms of grand, systematic solutions that would revolutionize American life.

As you’ll see in this issue, the definition of the middle market isn’t completely settled among the people talking about it, and it’s probably not helpful to think of it as one thing, anyway; it is more likely a collection of markets rather than one.

You’ll also read about LeadingAge members who are trying to help the middle market. In every case, they are biting off only what they can chew. They are trying to solve a problem for a few people now, while learning about opportunities and barriers, and thinking about how their models might expand in the future.

If you don’t like fancy academic terms, you’ll be happy to know that Prof. Lindblom comes to our rescue again. He spelled out his ideas in an influential 1959 paper titled, “The Science of ‘Muddling Through.’”

May we continue to muddle.

In This Issue

Our first article is “Defining Our Terms: What is the Middle Market?” Learn why naming what we need to focus on is step one.

In “Providers Test Middle Market Models,” you’ll see how 3 LeadingAge members are creatively addressing the middle market challenge. I’d like to also recommend listening to a 2019 podcast that features 2 of the members that appear in this article. That podcast (available here on LeadingAge.org, or at SoundCloud) featured an enlightening conversation on middle-market issues.

Our next feature has a rather speculative origin, but presents food for thought. The question I kept asking myself was, “If you can’t supply all the material things that some people want, could you supply the social environments that other people want instead?” I still don’t know whether the approach that question implies would be workable for enough people, or financially sustainable, but I do know this: If anyone could make that work, it would be LeadingAge members. Read “Meeting in the Middle: Community as a Middle Market Strategy” to learn more.

Design and the Middle Market” is the result of conversations we had with a group of architects that have thought carefully about the middle market. Design by itself isn’t the answer to serving people in those income ranges, but these experts walk us through the things creative design can contribute.

Many of the members and other experts I’ve talked to about middle market issues believe that the model that most scalable solutions will build on is housing + services. In “Serving the Middle Market: A Housing-Based Perspective,” we interview 2 LeadingAge staff who focus on older adult housing, for their perspectives on defining the middle market (and why it can be tricky), and for their thoughts about how the housing-forward approach can work.

In “Pocket Neighborhoods and Service to the Middle Market,” you’ll meet architect Ross Chapin, whose expertise is pocket neighborhoods, another design innovation that might inspire providers in developing affordable living options for older adults.

Each year, we publish an article by fellows of the Larry Minnix Leadership Academy, explaining how the annual “study circle” process helped them grow as leaders. This year, the authors chose to record a podcast instead. Listen to “A ‘Mindful Pause’: Study Circle Helps Leaders Reflect and Grow.”

Finally, read this month’s installment of our regular “People We Serve” series: “Scientists, Veterans, and Reporters: These Are the People We Serve.” Don’t forget to keep the stories coming!

Gene Mitchell is editor of LeadingAge magazine.