While the fiscal sustainability of whole nations – China, Italy, Korea, the U.S. and more – will rise or fall on how we handle aging populations, solutions from the ground up are also essential. A case in point: the Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO) “Age-Friendly City Initiative,” in which New York City has become a visible leader. A tucked-away wire story over the weekend notes the development: “NYC Stores Launch Effort for Senior Customers.”
Older customers—often among the most loyal—will now be acknowledged and aided by lower shelving, larger print, more seating, and other amenities. Though this may seem a small issue when compared to the sovereign debt and national economic health that aging populations are contributing to in a big way, the initiative combines good old commercial interests with a drive for the new social contract we’ll need in the 21st century to align with demographic realities. In the next 20 years, the number of New Yorkers over 65 will roughly equal the number of kids in school – 15 percent of the population. By 2030, the number of over-65 will zoom to 1.35 million, up 44 percent from 2000, as a result of baby boomers’ “diminished fertility and increasing longevity.”
The age-friendly move in the Big Apple has strong support across public and private sectors: Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn are joined by Dr. Joe Ivey Boufford, president of The New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM). A commission staffed by NYAM has created innovative programs for employers and retailers, higher education, and local neighborhoods.
In New York City, as with the more than 50 other cities worldwide, including London and Brussels, there’s more going on than just support of the elderly, which in itself isn’t a bad goal. In the areas of transportation, housing and education, these cities are preparing to keep aging populations more productive, active, and healthy. Aging demographics is the single largest feed into entitlements, so if this new initiative works as well in other places as we’re seeing here in NYC, it will be an important factor in addressing our fiscal challenges—perhaps even as important as the budget-slashing exercises our politicians are involved in right now.
Michael W. Hodin, Ph.D., is managing director, the High Lantern Group, and an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
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