Community Board 10 in south Queens, according to State Senator Joe Addabbo, Jr., has one of the highest populations of seniors. Addabbo sees this as a growing issue that will have to be managed for a long time.
At first glance, a growing senior population is not bad news for politicians, even if it means more services are required. If you do right by this group, you can see the rewards come Election Day.
The challenge for any policy maker when it comes to seniors in New York City in 2012 is simply that the bulk of seniors are still pretty young - figure somewhere between the ages of 62 and 66. Addabbo explains that the younger, healthier senior citizens have caused policy makers to try to create jobs for those who still wish to work after retirement.
“It’s an emerging issue, but now we are looking down the line and many of them want to work so we have to find work for them,” says Addabbo.
Addabbo sits on the State Senate’s Aging Committee and says that even if the economy were to take another downturn that seniors would be in pretty good shape, as far as state funding goes.
There is no question that politicians in this area are well versed in the issues facing seniors. Audrey Pheffer, the former assemblywoman in the 23rd District, was quite good at making this population a priority, and it paid off in dividends politically. My grandmother still thinks Audrey is her assemblywoman – even though Audrey has since retired and my grandmother now lives in rural Maryland.
Senior citizens’ preferences were once relatively easy to predict. Only last week, I visited my grandmother at her senior center where she was going over a copy of the Ten Commandments with another woman. “You don’t know this by now?!” I asked her.
The fact is that her generation is easier to please with less. Newer seniors are modern people; they even dislike the word “seniors.” Gone are the days when seniors get on a bus and announce their seniority to get a seat. The seniors in their sixties today are often not interested in being singled out as such.
The City of New York is now trying to re-focus the needs of younger senior citizens as they relate to senior centers. Those who became senior citizens in the 1980s and early 1990s loved the senior centers that provided affordable lunches, ample time for card playing, and occasional trips.
The newer seniors are slower to accept senior centers. These seniors go to the gym weekly, more of them drive, and what they want from a senior center has required the Department for the Aging to re-focus the design of senior centers. The needs of the new seniors are not as easily measured.
One issue that has not changed – not for the better anyway – is housing. The economy has taken a toll on how, and where, seniors live. Addabbo says that home care and housing are the big issues for policy makers. Home care matters for younger people who are more often becoming home care providers for their elderly family members.
If seniors can remain in their homes for as long as possible with temporary care, working people can feel better about leaving their older family members during the daytime. In the last few years, my mother hired a woman to cook dinner for my grandmother so she would stay away from the stove.
Of course, that just meant that my grandmother started cooking dinner before the woman showed up. Apparently the issue here was that the woman was from Pittsburgh, and therefore she did not understand real cooking.
So politicians are faced with two very different populations of senior citizens. Many of us in the political center like to fashion ourselves as somewhat Libertarian, but senior care is where government should have an active role. As to where that role lies is something over which politicians should be debating.