Aging in the Empire State: A Look at New York City’s Senior Population

November 7, 2013
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New York may be the city that never sleeps and the nation’s economic business center, but it’s also home to a diverse and rapidly growing aging population.

New York may be the city that never sleeps and the nation’s economic business center, but it’s also home to a diverse and rapidly growing aging population.

Despite the Big Apple’s fast paced lifestyle, Manhattan and the outer boroughs are experiencing a shift toward an older demographic. Today over 1 million older adults are living in the city, and New York State has the third highest population of seniors nationwide.

New York’s senior population is expected to boom 45% in the next 20 years, when 1 in every 5 New Yorkers will be age 60 or older. In a matter of decades, the number of older adults living in NYC will outnumber the amount of school-aged children.

What makes New York City’s aging demographic unique?: Its rich diversity and dynamic composition. Historically known as center for immigration, New York City has the largest foreign-born older adult population of any U.S. city and make up 46% of all city seniors. Over 463,000 aging immigrant residents call NYC home and numbers are growing in every borough. While the majority of immigrant seniors call Queens and Brooklyn home, the number of aging foreign-born persons increased in 21 out 55 neighborhoods throughout New York between 2000-2010.  Interestingly, growth among the 85-and-over minority population is expected to skyrocket an average of 72% each decade between 2010 and 2040.

However, the aging of New York’s immigrant population presents a number of challenges. As a group, foreign-born elders have lower incomes, less retirement savings, and far fewer public benefits as compared to native New Yorkers.  Language barriers can produce another roadblock in helping aging immigrants from accessing proper health care and housing, or can result in them falling through the cracks entirely. Many older immigrants grow more isolated as they age and are more likely to experience loneliness and depression. 

Another challenge the city faces with its aging population focuses on health and chronic conditions. According to NYSOFA, the number of community-dwelling seniors living with functional impairments will grow 17% by 2015, highlighting the need for special support services to support older adults. Keeping New York City’s seniors at home longer, in good health is becoming more challenging as well. Over 79% of seniors living in city public housing report being diagnosed with two or more chronic conditions (cholesterol, arthritis, diabetes, hypertension, or osteoporosis).

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How can the city best identify and support these at-risk older adults? What strategies should the city be thinking about to enhance services for aging New Yorkers?