Guest Column: State must prepare for its aging future

Lawmakers and governor need to adapt policy approach

For The Sunday Gazette

Turn on the TV or scroll through social media and the issues facing older New Yorkers sometimes seem invisible.

But below the radar, a seismic demographic shift is quietly transforming New York: an aging population in full boom.

New York state is graying.

The number of seniors statewide has jumped 26 percent over the past decade, while the under-65 population declined 1 percent.

This rapid aging has enormous implications, and it’s time for elected leaders to take new steps to support older New Yorkers.

Last year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo made New York the first state to join the AARP–World Health Organization Network of Age Friendly States and Communities.

But there’s a lot more he and legislators can do.

A new report from the Center for an Urban Future reveals that the older adult population is growing faster than the overall population in all of

New York’s 20 largest cities and counties; Saratoga County topped the list with a 55 percent explosion over the last decade.

Yet state spending on programs administered through the Office for the Aging is down 40 percent per older adult than in 2000, adjusted for inflation.

What’s more, there are now nearly half a million New Yorkers aged 85 or older – with Albany County seeing an 18 percent increase in the last decade.

The number of 65-plus New Yorkers living in poverty is up 11 percent since 2007—with the sharpest increase in Schenectady County, where the total nearly doubled.

And for older New Yorkers of color, poverty rates are significantly higher: 26 percent for U.S.-born Latinx seniors, 22 percent for Asian American older adults, and 19 percent for African Americans 65 and above.

New York’s older adults are also more diverse than ever:

* The number of 65-plus African Americans more than doubled in Schenectady County and more than tripled in Rensselaer County in the past decade. And the growth in the Latinx older adult population outpaced that of older whites in Schenectady and

Albany counties; the city of Albany’s U.S.-born older adult population is now nearly a quarter non-white.

* And the number of foreign-born New Yorkers ages 65 and above increased 41 percent over the past decade—more than double the increase among their U.S.-born counterparts.

Today, immigrants make up 28 percent of all older adults in the state. Many of them face unique challenges, and the need for culturally competent services—including in languages other than English—is rising.

To their credit, Gov. Cuomo and state lawmakers have proposed increasing funding by an historic $15 million to $16 million for cost-effective services that help older working- and middle-class New Yorkers remain in their own homes as they age.

This increase must be included in the final state budget due April 1, but lawmakers should add to it; a $25 million boost would help eliminate waiting lists around the state.

Legislators should also enact a tax credit to help family caregivers offset some of thenearly $7,000 each spends out-of-pocket on average for caregiving annually — and support programs to train and retain the state’s dangerously stretched caregiving workforce.

Likewise, New York should take steps to continue protecting older adults from foreclosure and fraud with housing and legal services that will otherwise run out of funding March 31.

These investments make both common sense and fiscal sense; without adequately funding in-home services, people may be forced into nursing homes at a far greater cost to taxpayers. These are among solutions AARP is engaged in developing as part of a multi-year effort to disrupt disparities impacting older communities of color around New York.

The aging of New York’s population is one of the most significant demographic trends in a generation.

By making support for older adults a top priority statewide, elected leaders can help ensure that more New Yorkers can grow older with dignity and security.

Jonathan Bowles is executive director of the Center for an Urban Future, an independent think tank focused on expanding economic opportunity in New York. Beth Finkel is New York State director of AARP.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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