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Creating Communities for All Ages in NYC

Nancy LeaMond — AARP Executive Vice President, State and National Group — addresses an AARP-hosted forum of city leaders

Nancy LeaMond, AARP Executive Vice President, 2014

Photo by Abby Greenawalt

Nancy LeaMond's remarks, as prepared for delivery in Manhattan on October 22, 2014, to an AARP-hosted Governing magazine forum featuring:

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We’re here to talk about the aging of America. The aging of New York City. First, a personal disclaimer. 

My roots are in the tri-state area  — having grown up down the road in Milburn, New Jersey.

And while I’m a lifelong Yankees fan, I recently adopted the Washington Nationals as my new hometown team ... which is why, during this postseason, I’ll be catching up on Scandal and Downtown Abbey.

But in all sincerity, when I come to New York, it feels like I’m coming home. And I’m delighted to be with you today.

I would also like to acknowledge AARP Board Chair Carol Raphael. Carol is former President and CEO of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York and she’s a resident of New York City.

Now, I know some of you think of AARP as the group that sends you a bunch of mail when you turn 50. And that’s true.

But you may not know that AARP is the largest membership organization in the country.

We have 38 million members — including 750,000 members in New York City.

And our most important work happens in states and communities.

That’s why we have a team of 20 staff and more than 2,500 volunteers in New York, led by our AARP New York State Director Beth Finkel.

And it’s also why we partnered with Governing [magazine]. Because we share a commitment to strengthening communities.

Since 2012, we’ve been on a road show with Governing — from Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine.

Today actually represents our final event of 2014. 

And while every place is different, there are some common themes.

FIRST: Simply put, our country is aging.

By 2030, 1 in 4 Americans will be over the age of 50. 

Every state is getting older. Even the “youngest” states like Utah and Alaska will see an increase in their older population by more than 30 percent over the next 20 years.

And as states are aging, so too are cities.

New York tops the charts, with 2.6 million people age 50-plus. 

And the oldest among us are growing.  New York has more people over the age of 65 than anywhere in the country.

In 20 years, the 65-plus population will double to 72 million. One in every five New Yorkers will be 65 or older.

SECOND: It’s not just that we’re getting older.  We’re doing it differently.

Indeed, we boomers have a new mindset about aging — it’s called denial.

As Nora Ephron said:  “There's a reason why 40, 50 and 60 don't look the way they used to. And it's not because of feminism, or better living through exercise.  It's because of hair dye.”

The average life expectancy in the U.S. is up to 78 years —13 years past traditional retirement.

At AARP, we call it "the age of possibilities."

People are reimagining what to do with their lives, with these bonus years.

When we were younger, most of us assumed we’d work until 65 — then enjoy a few years in the sun.

But now, we have options. 

  • To keep working, or retire and volunteer in the community
  • To move away, or stay near friends and family
  • To hold onto empty nests, or downsize
  • To spend down assets, or leave money to kids and grandkids

Which brings me to my THIRD point: The collective wealth of Boomers  surpasses any generation before them.

This is age of the "longevity economy." New Yorkers over the age of 50 contribute to the economy in an outsize proportion to their share of the population.

There are roughly 1.5 million baby boomers in New York City. And they represent $100 billion in gross domestic product.

In fact, a 2011 study found that people 50 and older accounted for $70 billion in consumer spending in New York — half of all spending in the city.

So ... our country is getting older. We have a new outlook on aging. And the boomers are carrying economic power their later years.

Which leads me to my FOURTH observation: These forces have implications for every corner of our nation, and for every institution.

And to a varying degree, institutions and organizations are responding.

Business are adapting to a different kind of consumer. For example, Trader Joes offers more single and double servings, to serve empty nesters.                                                                     

Employers are adapting to an older workforce — like Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, which helps their employees transition into retirement by offering reduced work schedules and special assignments.

Savvy marketers are taking advantage of a massive and lucrative market. Just look at the brain fitness industry, which is projected to reach $1 billion by 2015.

And our government is playing a play role — the federal government has been involved in the aging of America ever since Social Security was founded in 1935 ... though in typical Washington fashion, the conversation is short-sighted  — our federal leaders are only focused on the cost of an older society, and not the opportunities.

Fortunately, state and city officials are stepping up:

  • Revising policies to help people live independently in their elderly years
  • Passing new laws to improve public health
  • Making sure our roads and transit are as safe for a woman with a stroller, as they are for a man in a wheelchair

On that note, my FIFTH point: We have witnessed a sporadic — but growing — effort by local leaders to make communities more age-friendly.

AARP is the U.S. affiliate for the World Health Organization’s Network of Age-Friendly Communities.

We work with leaders across the country to make their communities great places for people of all ages.  From babies to centenarians, and everyone in between.

In the past two years, 37 communities have joined the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities, representing more than 26 million constituents.

And not surprisingly, New York is leading the way.

There are more age-friendly places in your state than anywhere else in the country. And New York City was one of the first to sign-up.

New York rates as one of the most walkable cities in America. A recent survey found that 90 percent of New Yorkers believe your city is safe for pedestrians. 

Your age-friendly local business initiative helps businesses adopt new practices to better market themselves to older consumers.

And your Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption was recently raised. So seniors who make less than $50,000 a year will avoid sharp rent hikes.

At the same time that we look at institutions, some of the most interesting things are happening from the ground up.

For example, Neighbor2Neighbor in Greenwich Village helps residents connect each other to services and supports.

We’ve seen more elderly singles take on roommates — not so much Courtney Cox and Jennifer Aniston, more like Bea Arthur and Betty White.

There’s even a mobile home revival among older Americans who ditch their two-story colonials for the open road.

Yes, states and communities are laboratories for innovation. But so are the citizens   who band together to bring about change.

But while there is progress, my final point is this: We have more work to do.

In a recent survey of 50-plus voters, we found that New Yorkers are feeling economically insecure — they’re worried they won’t have the resources they’ll need for tomorrow. 

As I mentioned earlier, the collective wealth of boomers is astounding.  But we all know the story for many individuals is different.

One-third of New York city heads of households nearing retirement have less than $10,000 in liquid assets. Meaning that too many of our future seniors will rely entirely on Social Security.

And more than a quarter of New York State 50-plus voters — who are currently working — are not confident they will ever be able to retire.

A New Yorker cartoon sums it up. A man says to his wife: “If we take a late retirement and an early death, we’ll just squeak by.”

But there’s one finding in the survey that I find astonishing. Among the boomers who are confident they will retire, more than half are thinking about leaving the city because they’re worried about ...

  • utility costs
  • property taxes
  • holding onto their jobs in the face of age discrimination 
  • about being able to get around their community as they age

If even a fraction of those folks leave, New York risks losing a major economic force that will be impossible to replace ... and that is where all of you come in. And it’s why we’re here today.

We are at the epicenter of a demographic transformation — a special moment in time. 

Every part of our country and economy has a role to play in the aging of America. 

AARP is committed to working in New York City, and across the state, to make New York a more livable place for people of all ages.

But we cannot do it without all of you — you are the leaders who will pave the way.

And when you leave here today, we ask you to join us —  in the words of Frank Sinatra — to “start spreading the news."

Thank you so much.

 

Nancy LeaMond is AARP executive vice president, State and National Group. Follow her on Twitter @NancyLeaMond.

 

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