“Out of balance.” That’s how Oneonta businessman Robert Harlem described the demographic shift going on in Otsego County (as well as throughout much of upstate New York).
Harlem was referring to the fact that adults older than 65 are a steadily growing population in the local area. Today, they make up 10.3 percent; within the next 20 years, that number will be up to 22 percent, nearly a quarter of the local population.
This is not a new issue, nor a unique one. Nationally, the impacts of the aging of the Baby Boom generation have been well-discussed. Locally, we have known for some time that our demographic skews older, and that many young people leave the area to pursue careers or education.
The challenges posed by this situation are numerous. Foremost among them is the fact that as seniors age, they will place great demands on the health care industry, for everything from routine medical care to assisted living.
Locally, this is a particularly poignant concern after the shuttering of the Countryside Care Center in Delhi and the pending sale of Otsego Manor in Cooperstown.
And, as Harlem pointed out, communities need to balance their retired populations with younger wage-earners to have a stable tax base.
And so it seems that we often talk about the “problem” of our aging population. But it’s worth looking, too, at the ways in which this population can be, and is, a tremendous boon.
Look around at the civic, arts and service organizations in the region, and you will see more than a few gray heads. In large part, it is this same “aging population” — mature adults with grown children and stable incomes — who keep many of our community institutions going.
While not all of these organizations are job-creators, they do contribute greatly to the quality of life that draws people to live or visit here, including entrepreneurs and small-business owners.
And speaking of business, this is another area in which our aging population could be an asset, rather than a detriment. Right now, the Executive Service Corps of Otsego-Delaware offers an opportunity for active or retired professionals to consult with small businesses and not-for-profit organizations.
This is a particularly valuable model for our market, where there is plenty of knowledge and expertise among our aging population. Perhaps there is more that can be done to help local businesses thrive and grow by tapping into that well of knowledge.
In the end, our aging population is not a “problem” to be “solved” — it is a reality that we are already living with. While we must prepare for some of the challenges associated with this trend, we should also look at ways to capitalize upon the opportunities it affords us.