Move Over Millennials — In Philly, Boomers Are Booming

The 55-and over set is actually growing at a faster rate than young adults.

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Much has been made of the Millennial “revolution” in this city in recent years, perhaps nowhere more than at this magazine. The attention is probably warranted, for reasons not worth delving into yet again (young adults have brought start-ups and pop-ups and optimism to Philly, yada, yada, yada). But too little attention has been paid to the booming number of boomers (and up) in Philadelphia.

That’s the focus of a new report by the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) titled “Ageing in Cities.” Philly is one of nine cities worldwide that are highlighted in the report, as examples of where the challenges of a fast-growing, retirement-age community will emerge. And soon. According to the study, Philly will see a huge increase in this demographic over the next five years:

The number of older adults aged 65-69 is expected to increase by 24 percent, the number of adults aged 70-74 is expected to increase by 19 percent and in African American, Latino, and Asian communities the number of adults over 85 is expected to double

Lost in the hoopla over all the young adults flocking to Philly since 2000 has been the simultaneous ascendance of a crowd twice their age. In fact, data from a Pew Report last year shows that the 55- to 69-year-old age group grew at a faster pace — 27 percent — than did the 20- to 34-year-olds — 19 percent — between 2000 and 2012. (Important caveat: the sheer number increase among the millennial cohort was larger than the 55-and-up group.)

It’s not that older people are shunning Florida for Philly all of a sudden, as much as they’re simply living longer. Although that’s happening around much of the world, Pennsylvania has felt the effects of this trend more than other places in this country. Pennsylvania has the fourth-highest percentage of 65 and older residents in the country, according to Keystone Crossroads.

Credit: Keystone Crossroads

Credit: Keystone Crossroads

The OECD notes some of the potential challenges that Philly — and similar cities with expanding cohorts of older people — might face, including: more public-health spending, demand for more affordable public housing and a need to retrofit infrastructure. On the flip side, the OECD sees opportunities arising out of the need to adapt to the circumstances of having older populations, such as a boost to the housing market (born out of the need to remodel homes for older tenants) and an increase in community volunteers.

Planning for an older Philly may be equally important for policymakers to keep in mind as retaining young entrepreneurs. How well is the city doing so far? Hard to say. Detractors could point to the fact that affordable housing remains an issue, with low-income renters only able to afford 5 percent of the available rental units in the city. Optimists could look at the zoning commission becoming more inclusive of senior-housing policies in recent years as a sign of forward-looking change.

Wherever we’re at, the next mayor should consider developing a comprehensive plan to address the needs of the city’s growing older population.