80 UNION Tlie Baby Boomers' retirement will change the texture of society in ways weVe scarcely begun to contemplate. A dispatch from America's coming silver age BY MEGAN MCARDLE Illustration by Polly Becker No Country for Youno: Men
81 I t is cliche to speak of sleepy little country towns, but my mother's hometown goes beyond sleepy into Rip van Winkle territory. Newark, New York, has more churches than bars. Neat clapboards and stately Victorians line quiet streets wrapped tight around the Erie Canal. Drive through Newark quickly, and it looks like America's past. Stay a little longer, and you begin to recognize it as our future. Walk into one of those churches on a typical Sunday morning, and you will find only a few, startling islands of brown or blond hair amid a sea of gray. Almost 20 per- cent of the population is over the age of 65. (The town's economic fortunes have declined along with those of the Erie, and many younger workers have left.) On the street where my mother grew up, and my aunt now lives, the only children you see are visiting their grandparents. The former Midlakes Middle School, which sits in neighboring Phelps, has transmogrified into "Vienna Gardens," a private independent-living facility where my grandmother now lives. The bones of the schoolhouse are still clearly visible under the carpet and overstuffed couches that line the halls; the residents take their meals in the cavernous former gj-mnasium. Vienna Gardens is home to 64 people, but the place has an empty feel. The rent is out of the reach of many of the area's seniors. Those seniors, eventually, may end up at the county nursing home. It is a new and lovely facility. But its supervisors are leery of slipping into the red; most of its residents are on Medicaid, and the program's meager payments don't cover costs. Any overruns would likely be made up through taxes, and the seeds of a tax revolt appear to be germinating. Local property taxes are already high: the school tax alone is 2.5 percent of assessed home value each year. Many of the town's residents grouse about their tax bills. Local school officials are nervously eyeing nearby Monroe County, where the county executive wants to cope with budget woes by diverting school money into county coffers. As Newark has aged, its commerce and the nature of its workforce bave shifted. The Wal-Mart in town is busy, even on a weekday afternoon, and several local clothing stores have closed. While neither phenomenon is unique to Newark, the towns aging has doubtlessly contributed to both: big-box stores appeal to the elderly not only because of lower pricing, but also because they put more goods in one place, enabling seniors who can't walk far, or who have difficulty getting into and out of cars, to make the most of each shopping trip. At the local community col- lege, new programs in health care are proliferating.
- Spring '08
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