The Aging City: In a Migrant Metropolis, When New Arrivals Grow Old, Where Do They Go?

Seniors at Queens Community House practice tai chi. (Photo Courtesy: Queens Community House)Seniors at Queens Community House practice tai chi. (Photo Courtesy: Queens Community House)

New York is the youngest old city in the world. But the historically youth-obsessed metropolis now faces a “gray wave” of baby boomers, revealing generational fissures crosscutting race and class fault lines. 

While elders face soaring rents and frayed safety nets, the emerging majority of immigrant seniors — who have increased by more than 105,000 since 2000 — complicates the demographic landscape. Their stories attest to the city’s historic social struggles, stretching from the Gilded-Age surge from Eastern and Southern Europe to the postwar wave of Asian and Latino migration.

But after journeying far in their lifetimes, aging immigrants now struggle to hold onto the roots they’ve put down in America. Yet their resilience serves as a social anchor for the city’s marginalized communities.

Aging in Place

They’ve struggled through their rough working years, but what happens when seniors age into deepening hardship, especially with the Trump administration planning massive social spending cuts to agencies providing lifeline senior care services?

The median annual income of immigrant seniors across New York is about $9,900, roughly $8,000 less than that of their native-born peers. Although in general, many seniors are stabilized through retirement benefits and Medicare, older immigrants tend to receive fewer resources. About a third qualify for no Social Security payments at all. (Due to harsh restrictions on benefits for green card holders, even many permanent residents are barred for years from federal welfare programs). Many poorer seniors or later arrivals, earned too little on the books during their working years to qualify for a meaningful amount.

While all low-income seniors are vulnerable to food insecurity, immigrants face a disproportionate risk of hunger. They make up some two-thirds of local residents over 60 years old enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition…

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