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Behind the Headlines Jewish Aged Growing Problem in New York Area

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Elderly Jews in Greater New York now constitute the largest concentration of Jewish aged in the world, numbering an estimated 263,150 persons over 65, which is 13.1 percent of the Greater NYC Jewish population, estimated at 2,013,650 persons, according to a report by the Jewish Association for Services for the Aged (JASA).

This is one of the findings of a research study, “The Status of the Jewish Elderly of Greater New York,” by Bernard Warach, JASA executive director, and Dr. Abraham Monk of Columbia University. The report indicated that the proportion of elderly Jews rises to 18.6 percent, relative to only the Jewish population of the five boroughs. The work was funded by the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, of which JASA is an affiliate.

The study found that Jews are aging at a higher rate than the general New York population. The Jewish mean age is 35, compared to 30 for the general population, a finding attributed to the sharp decline in Jewish fertility rates, which have fallen below those of the American population, and to the longevity of Jews.

The study found that 38 percent of Greater New York’s elderly Jews — about 100,000 — is estimated to be over 75; and more than ten percent — 21,000 Jews — are over 85, in line with national trends reported by the Census Bureau. The number of Jews over 75 and over 85 is expected to climb significantly in the next decade, the report said.

POPULATION SHIFTS

The report found that, as with the general population, Jewish women live longer than Jewish men: in the 65-69 age group, 56.3 percent are women, while 43.7 percent were males. By age 85, 63.8 percent are women and only 37.2 percent are males.

The report found that the distribution of elderly New York Jews, now concentrated heavily in Brooklyn, is shifting. At present, 36.2 percent live in Brooklyn; 17 percent in Manhattan; 15.7 percent in Queens; 15 percent in the Bronx; nine percent in Staten Island; 13.6 percent in Nassau and Suffolk counties; and 3.4 percent in Westchester.

The elderly Jews are moving north to the north Bronx (Riverdale, Pelham and Co-op City) and to Westchester; south in Brooklyn to Canarsie, Sheepshead Bay and Brighton Beach; east to Nassau and Suffolk; and out of New York state to Florida.

As a class, elderly Jews are poorer, more impaired and more isolated than most Americans. The study found that the greater the age, the greater the poverty, disability, chronic illness and poor housing. According to the study, nearly 74,000 Greater New York area Jews live at or below the poverty line — 21 percent of the total of elderly Jews, closely matching the figures for the general aged population of Greater New York.

The report said nursing home care for an individual now costs more than $35,000 a year, while 24-hour-a-day weekly home care costs an estimated $25,000 a year. Such outlays are beyond the means of most older adults. The proportion of elderly Jews in long-term care institutions is about twice as high as for the general population. About 40 percent of all institutionalized elderly, 20,000 persons, are Jews.

Jewish families continue to provide elderly relatives with significant help but a number of factors point to the need for more help, Warach and Monk found.

PROBLEMS OF AGING

The aged person of 85 — whose numbers will grow — has adult children who are themselves elderly and coping with their own problems of aging. The Jewish wives, traditional care-givers, are now working outside the home in growing numbers and are no longer available to provide “hands-on” care.

The complexities of getting care and information about benefits, government entitlements and availability of care; the difficulty of filling out forms; and the “sheer costs” of care have become overwhelming for most older Jews and their adult children. In addition, the study found, many elderly Jews do not have living children and many have children who live far away. Those elderly Jews must manage alone.

These factors have created an “enormous” demand for the services of health and welfare agencies, such as those affiliated with the Federation. Those affiliates have provided a network of community services and facilities, now serving 100,000 elderly Jews and their families.

The report noted that those services are funded largely by government grants and philanthropic contributions of Federation-United Jewish Appeal. Many elderly Jews get their income entirely from social security payments, supplementary income, and other government entitlements.

SOME RECOMMENDATIONS

The continued rise in longevity of Jews of 75 and 85 will “greatly increase” the number of “old aged” in the Jewish population, which will place further demands on social service. Warach and Monk proposed five major areas of action in the decade ahead for the Jewish aged by government and Jewish communal agencies.

They proposed legislation to provide greater health care benefits and social services to all elderly persons; improvement of training of professionals and para-professionals in gerontology and geriatrics; setting up more neighborhood health, welfare and community service facilities to improve areas for all older persons. They recommended support of research in aging, disease; providing services for the elderly; and development of an education program to inform the public about aging and care of the aged.

Commenting that the Jewish community and American society generally will need to allocate greater resources to meet the needs of an increasingly aging population, Warach and Monk said they were optimistic. They said that older adults will have increasingly good health and be able to work to age 70 and later if anti-discrimination laws are approved and widespread prejudice could be overcome.

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