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The golden years: 1 in 3 senior households has income of $100,000-plus, LI data show

Steve Malinsky, seen at his Plainview home on

Steve Malinsky, seen at his Plainview home on Nov. 6 with the Austin-Healey he restored. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

For many gray-haired Long Islanders, the golden years are more rock 'n' roll than rocking chairs.

Affluent and active senior citizens are buying Corvettes, filling concert halls, shopping for jewelry and booking vacations. Their numbers are growing, and businesses are taking notice.

Consider the data: 34% of Nassau County householders 65 plus and 28% of those in Suffolk report annual incomes of more than $100,000, according to 2017 Census data tabulated by the Center for an Urban Future, a Manhattan think tank.

To be sure, about 8% of Long Island's 65-plus households fall below the federal poverty line, and several times that number are considered financially stressed.

But seniors lucky enough to have disposable income are spending it.

A look around the region's music venues shows that many concertgoers are old enough to remember seeing the Beatles appear on "Ed Sullivan." Laura Mogul, executive director of Port Washington's Landmark on Main Street Inc. theater, estimates about one-third of her concertgoers are 65-plus.

"I look around and there's a lot of gray hair," she said of the 425-seat venue that books acts like pop diva Darlene Love, pianist George Winston and rocker Max Weinberg (Bruce Springsteen's drummer).

Mogul uses print publications, direct mail (using demographic data to the neighborhood level) and digital platforms like email and Facebook to target prospective concertgoers.   "We're not specifically targeting" senior citizens, she said, though Landmark uses Facebook's tools to zero in on fans of particular artists plus fans of similar artists (think Darlene Love and Tina Turner).

Many seniors are driving to those concerts in style. On Long Island, almost one in four buyers of new vehicles is 65 or over, according to Strategic Vision, a San Diego advisory firm.

Some new-car buyers want to feel the wind in their gray hair.

The median age for Long Island buyers of Chevrolet Corvette convertibles is 66. (Prices range from about $61,000 to $126,000.)  The median age goes down to a sprightly 62 for Corvette coupes and the sporty Audi TT roadster, according to the data.

If that's too downscale, try the Ferrari California with a price of about $202,000 and a top speed of roughly 196 mph. Median buyer age on Long Island: 63.

"While they may be 63 years old, their values and priorities are the same as when they were 43 years old," said Alexander Edwards, president of Strategic Vision.

Long Island's 65-and-older segment will grow fast, according to projections by the Cornell Program on Applied Demographics.

In Nassau, that group is expected to increase by about 46% from 2015 to 2030, expanding to 23% of the overall population at the end of that period, when the youngest Baby Boomers turn 65.

In Suffolk, the 65-plus contingent is projected to grow even faster from 2015 to 2030, increasing by more than 50% to 24% of the overall population.

Nicole Larrauri, president of The EGC Group, a Melville-based advertising and marketing agency, said the 65-plus demographic is central to many Long Island businesses, such as those that deal in luxury cars, home appliances and home furnishings, but tapping that market requires sophistication.

"We have the ability to target not just by age, but by interest," she said, noting that marketers can use "psychographic data" that segments prospects or customers by attitudes, beliefs, lifestyles and personality traits. "To say '65-plus' and put it in one bucket doesn't exist. You can have a 65-year-old snowboarder."

Take Ann Lombardo. A marketer would be hard pressed to put her in a single bucket. The Water Mill resident does not consider herself wealthy, but her property in the affluent East End community includes eight acres of undeveloped agricultural reserve property.

After growing up in Port Washington and attending the Fashion Institute of Technology, Lombardo, 67, became a fashion illustrator. She lived in Taiwan for more than a decade, becoming fluent in Mandarin. She later worked at Ralph Lauren and Weight Watchers, which sought out the retiree to join a team building a meetings business in China.

Though Lombardo retired from her full-time role at Weight Watchers in 2008, she returned as a part-time coach about two years ago.

"I love my work," she said. "I'm all over the East End."

For recreation she hops on her $6,000 Trek road bike ("At 60, I bought a bike that was worth more than my car at the time") or the $2,800 Peloton stationary bike (plus $39 a month for online training) she and her husband bought for their 25th wedding anniversary in March.

Her creative outlets include tending to her organic garden and painting. Her work was included in an art show in Sag Harbor that runs through Dec. 8.

Gene Bernstein, 72, also has a connection to the art world, as a benefactor and collector with his wife, Kathleen Walsh,  of art including abstract, expressionist and street art styles.

He and his wife moved into a two-story house with an elevator in Southampton three years ago and make charitable contributions to  support the area's artists and institutions, such as the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill and Guild Hall, an art and theater space in East Hampton.

Bernstein remains nonexecutive chairman of Melville-based NIC Holding Corp., but has shed operating responsibilities at its Northville Industries petroleum storage and distribution business.

He also indulges a passion for golf, including annual excursions to play in Scotland and Ireland. A former president of the Metropolitan Golf Association, he figures his annual golf expenditures, including club memberships, equipment and trips, run into "five figures."

"I'm not sitting around playing gin rummy every day," he said. "We think of it as a very full and rich life." 

Michael Dubb, founder and chief executive of Jericho-based housing developer The Beechwood Organization, said Long Island has a large contingent of empty nesters who are seeking maintenance-free living and amenities like walking trails, pickle ball courts and playgrounds for grandchildren.

Dubb has developed 60 communities on Long Island and in the greater metropolitan area, many aimed at homeowners aged 55- or 62-plus.

"I definitely build based on a demographic," said Dubb, "Depending on the community I'm building, I try to bring the bells and whistles for that community."
Eighty percent of the units in Beechwood's Country Pointe communities in Yaphank, Smithtown and Plainview are age-restricted.

Pricing for the 750 units at Country Pointe Plainview, some not yet built, will range from upward of $600,000 to $1.6 million.

Seniors seeking amenities in a Long Island rental can consider properties like Encore Luxury Living in Jericho. One bedrooms at the Engel Burman Group development start at $8,400 a month.

Steve Malinsky, 72, and his wife Phyllis moved into their newly constructed home at Country Pointe Plainview in February. He grew up in Brooklyn and Queens and moved to New Hampshire in 1976.

Over 37 years, Malinsky built a business manufacturing wooden moldings that supported 53 employees working three shifts.

After selling the business to three employees, the Malinskys headed south to Long Island to be closer to a daughter and grandchildren in Port Washington.

Malinsky said he is finding a sense of community at the Plainview development, where he also has time to dote on a 1955 ice blue metallic Austin-Healey Model 100 convertible, which he personally restored in New Hampshire.  He said his investment in the car--not counting labor--is the equivalent of buying a "high-end, decked out Mercedes."

"There are only about 2,500 left in the world," he said of the sports car that he bought from an estate sale. "It's literally a brand-new car."

These days the Malinskys also have time to travel. They've been to Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Tibet, Argentina, Chile, Kenya and Tanzania. Upcoming destinations include Aruba and Israel.

Sheila Yellin of Great Neck's Courtyard Travel said as many as 40% of the trips she books include at least one traveler age 65 or older,  and many of them seem intent on defying time.

"They're not a number anymore," she said. "They're very active. At 65, they're like 40."

Older travelers are veering off the beaten path and travel agents must take heed, Yellin said.

"It's not enough for us to sit at a computer and say, 'Do you want to go to Rome?'"

She said that travel agents have to "think outside the box," offering destinations like Africa or Antarctica.

The Adventure Travel Trade Association, a Monroe, Washington-based global trade group specializing in hiking, cycling, kayaking and mountain climbing trips, calculates that 23 percent of its clients are 61 or older.

Providing jewelry to active seniors, including golden-age travelers, requires some insight, said Esther Fortunoff of Westbury-based Fortunoff Fine Jewelry, who estimates about a quarter of her customers are 65 or over.

"People in their 60s go hiking and may not feel the need for such fancy jewelry that the previous generation wore," she said. "It could be damaged; it could be lost. You want to travel light."

Some travelers, for example, substitute cubic zirconia for diamonds, she said.

Lynda Day, an author and professor of Africana Studies at Brooklyn College, has done her share of traveling. The 66-year-old Freeport resident took a sabbatical last year and went to Ghana. She also goes to academic conferences at least once a year and family reunions every other year.

At home, Day sings in the choir at the Congregational Church of South Hempstead, United Church of Christ, where she serves as a trustee and frequents local restaurants.

"I enjoy the college atmosphere," she said, but is considering retirement when she hits 70.

In extending her working life, Day is part of a larger trend that Shital Patel, the New York State Department of Labor's analyst for the Long Island region, said is increasingly common.

More than one in five Long Islanders aged 65 or older was working, according to 2018 data. Overall, the number of Long Island workers aged 65 and older grew more than 50% from 65,163 in 2010 to 99,812 in 2018.

Patel said there are several reasons workers are putting off retirement.

Fewer companies provide health care to retirees, which creates an incentive to keep working. Plus changes in Social Security regulations encourage workers to wait until age 70 to maximize their benefits or collect benefits and salary at the same time.

Workers also are living longer and remain healthy and active, but need additional income to cover their extended life spans, Patel said.

Though many 65-plus Long Island householders fit the affluent profile, about 8 percent in Nassau and 9 percent in Suffolk fall below the poverty line. A United Way study found that as of 2016 a much larger segment--31% in Nassau and 36% in Suffolk--faced financial struggles as part of a category known as Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed  — the so-called working poor.

Still, for those Long Island seniors who have found financial security, the golden years can be golden indeed.

Steve Malinsky said that when he was a youngster, "I didn't realize we were poor. My parents worked paycheck to paycheck. My father lost a hand in an industrial accident."

But Malinsky was able to build a business and flip the script.

"So far," he said, "I've lived the American dream."

Fast Fact

65+ households with annual income of more than $100,000

Nassau: 34%

Suffolk: 28%

Source: Center for an Urban Future

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