In 1985 there were about 5.5 million functionally disabled elderly persons (65 +) in the United States (U.S.) living in the community and an additional 1.3 million in nursing homes. By 2020, these figures are expected to almost double to 10.1 million and 2.5 million respectively. The long-term care system (LTC) in the U.S. is large and complex. Fundamentally, it consists of: (a) informal care, provided voluntarily by one's family, friends, neighbours, and community organizations; (b) home and community based care, covering formal (paid) services provided in one's own home or other community based settings; and (c) nursing homes, which provide specialized medical, nursing, and social services in an institutional setting. Home and community based care includes a variety of services and financing streams, including (a) Medicare home health care, (b) Medicaid home health services, (c) Medicaid home- and community-based services, (d) programs and services under the Older Americans Act, (e) state sponsored social services funded by the Social Services Block Grant, (f) Supplemental Security Income payments, and (g) a range of supportive housing arrangements. Data on the LTC system are available from several key sources: national surveys, administrative records, inventories, state and local data systems, and demonstration programs. The LTC system remains decentralized. The frail elderly want dignity and independence in the latter years, plus access to needed services and an acceptable quality of life. In policy terms, their caregivers and the taxpaying public continue to struggle to find the appropriate mix of public and private support to meet the needs of the LTC population.