Here’s the bad news:
As our community is aging – with the inevitable rise in the need for social services – the very agencies that serve us face continuing staff reductions and budget shortfalls.
Here’s the good news:
These same agencies are determined to do more with less; and in many cases, they are succeeding.
Recent census figures show that 15 percent of all Bergen County residents are 65 and over. This compares to 13.5 percent for all of New Jersey and about 13 percent for the United States as a whole. In the Jewish community, however, the percentage of older members is even greater.
According to Prof. Ira Sheskin, director of the Jewish Demography Project, 18 percent of persons in Jewish households in Bergen County are age 65 and over.
In addition, said Sheskin – the researcher tapped by the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey (JFNNJ) for its demographic information – “This percentage may be increasing as the baby boomers retire, which begins this year.”
Sheskin, whose project is based at the Sue and Leonard Miller Center for Contemporary Judaic Studies at the University of Miami, pointed out that his numbers come from his own population survey, “The UJA Federation of Bergen County and North Hudson Community Study (2002).” The federal census does not break down its findings by religious group. (His full report can be accessed at www.jewishdatabank.org.)
Besides needing to provide more services for the elderly, our communal agencies face additional challenges, said Alan Sweifach, JFNNJ co-managing director of community planning.
As their parents age, more support is needed for adult children who become caregivers, not to mention those who fall into the “sandwich generation,” caring for both older adults and young or school-age children.
In this regard, some 59 percent of adult children who move out of the house stay in the New York metropolitan area, said Sheskin.
The help provided to seniors varies from person to person, but the principles remain the same: assessing individual needs; retrofitting or downsizing homes to provide greater safety and accessibility; providing wellness counseling, medical assistance, and recreational activities; and making sure that someone – whether a trained social worker or a volunteer – is available to visit or call those requiring follow-up.
With those ends in mind, local social service agencies are working to ensure that seniors – particularly those who are financially challenged – do not slip through the cracks.
“It’s not rocket science,” said Esther East, executive director of the Jewish Family Service in Clifton. “We know what to do.”
The challenge, it would appear, is to staff and fund the needed programs.