NYS Exposed: Dealing with upstate's aging population

June 09, 2017 12:45 PM

We talk a lot about "brain drain" -- when young people leave the area to take jobs elsewhere. That has left upstate New York with a "graying population."

In fact, the Empire State now has the fourth oldest population in the nation behind California, Florida and Texas.

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Here's the reality: Our state population dropped by 50,000 last year. A key factor there: Young people leaving the upstate region. Add to that, predictions from the census that Monroe County will see its 65-plus population double over the next 15 years.

Eileen Holtzhauer has tended to flowers in her Perinton backyard since 1968. She and her husband raised five kids in their home -- not one child or grandchild lives in New York State anymore.

"Opportunities were elsewhere," says Holtzhauer. "There was no saying, 'Oh you got to stay around.' I miss them and they all love coming back and they do and I visit."

Eileen is like many upstate seniors who have paid off their mortgage, live comfortably on retirement funds and don't want to leave their community. "As a neighborhood, we are very close. We have couples dinners and picnics in the summer. I wouldn't even know where I would want to move to."

With the baby boomer generation heading past 65, the whole country is graying. For New York state, 2015 was the first time in history that twenty percent of its residents were 60 or older. Over the next 15 years, Monroe County's 65-plus population will go from about 100,000 to more than 200,000.

"All these things can strain our budgets and then by straining the cost of government, they can put more strain on an economy -- that's not dynamic enough," says EJ McMahon, Empire Center.

The head of the Empire Center for Public Policy points to costs associated with health care, transportation and housing. He says not enough is being done to create economic opportunities.

"That's the key issue for people in all ages in New York," says McMahon. "We need better growth-oriented policies. The state has not only not done enough to make upstate friendly to growth; the state tends to do things in regulatory policy that hinder growth."

"I don't think we have to be afraid of it," says Ann Marie Cook, Lifespan. "I think we have to embrace this sort of new reality."

With the graying of America, the president of Lifespan says access to services is critical. In Monroe County, 81 percent of seniors live in the suburbs.

"And as they age, will they have access to medical providers, grocery stores," says Cook. "We are not exactly a walkable community in many of our suburbs."

Transportation is key and the Monroe County Office of Aging has made it a priority. "Our older adults are very important. We want to make sure that they are at the forefront of any decision making that we have."

The county executive advocated for ride-sharing services to be available in upstate and as of June 29, they will have access to Uber and Lyft. The county's Office for the Aging director, Julie Allen Aldrich, just went to a statewide conference too.

"To talk about how we can create those programs in our community, to keep funding in our community, to keep older adults served and provide services for the informal care givers as well," explains Aldrich.

Last month, the county executive announced the Ladderz-Up Program through MCC to train students and prepare them for new jobs. Some specifically in health for seniors, so in that case, it will be helping both the younger and older generations with getting employed and staying healthy.


Rebecca Leclair

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