AARP recently released the newest installment of its livability index, a statistical take on which U.S. cities promote the good life for the silver-haired. The index does a good job of providing metrics on a slew of important factors — walkability, public transportation, affordable housing, healthcare and more. However, these social services and quality of life considerations take us only so far, and effective downplay one crucial factor for livability: jobs.
By focusing mainly on social services for the 60 and older demographic, AARP furthers the 20th century notion of aging over 60, when society assumed this to be a time of need and accommodation for anyone deemed old. There are two basic flaws with this approach.
First, as we age into our 60s, 70s and beyond, more and more of us want to work. This has been well documented by multiple surveys from Aegon, the Dutch insurance company.
Second, as we couple the reality of our longevity with the low birth rates we also have, an aging society with 20th century retirement standards becomes fiscally unsustainable. This is as true around the globe as it is here in America, where the livelihood of all people of all ages hinges upon “seniors” being active and productive members of working society.
So as one imagines livability for aging citizens, opportunities for work must be at the core. Moreover, by not emphasizing jobs and economic contributions, we actually undercut our ability to provide the public services like healthcare and transportation that are so highly valued by the AARP. When 77 million potential taxpayers are taken out of the economic equation, there simply is not enough money to fund the stuff AARP and the rest of us say makes our cities “livable.”
Take New York City, where earlier this week the AARP launched its new livability index. New York, which is part of the World Health Organization’s Age-Friendly Cities program, comes in at number five on the index. It scores well on city-wide services such as transportation (83), neighborhood (81), housing (68), and health (61). But in a 21st century urban environment designed to promote successful aging, these metrics aren’t enough. We also need economic opportunities for older adults and the consequent economic resiliency of the entire community.
To align cities with the challenges and opportunities of a rapidly aging population, we should measure statistics such as employment opportunities and job creation for those over 60, and not just whether we can walk more easily on a sidewalk.
Consider three changes that should be as strongly recommended as those public services the AARP Index applauds:
First, New York’s city council should pass a resolution making it the first city on the planet to call for the end of any retirement age. This is not suggesting a new law or regulation, but through the power of political persuasion and moral force to announce that the 20th century idea of retirement is incompatible with 21st century life. A bold move would have the power of leadership and the virtue of economic contribution.
Second, the city should work with state government to reduce the tax burden on employers who retains their employees as they age into their 60s, 70s and beyond. Further, provide tax credits for education and training of older workers, as well as hiring older workers who can do the jobs required.
Third, create a silver entrepreneurship investment fund for small business start-ups by those in the 55-plus demographic.
If New York City were to add these economic incentives to their current livability features, it would not only be age-friendly but it would drive an economic boom that would provide the tax base for compassionate services across the city. There would be capital to do more for those in need as well as providing the leverage for those who only need the right system in which they can prosper.
This opinion piece was updated on December 28, 2015, correcting an error of omission in the AARP Index.