‘Life is too expensive here’: Senior immigrants in Flushing putting off retirement

flushing retirement
Photo by Baidi Wang


It’s almost 10 p.m. in downtown Flushing, and Ming Gao is busy cleaning up after a 10-hour day at C J Food Market where he works as a butcher.

Gao seemed tired. “Work is not easy,” he said. “I definitely wouldn’t work if I were in China. Life is too expensive here, and I want to help reduce the pressure on my children.” 

Gao, 63, is only one of the large number of seniors living in Flushing who are working past 60, what is a normal retirement age in China. It has been eight years since he immigrated to the U.S. from China. 

John Liu, 80, is actively seeking part-time jobs. He ran a small clothing factory before retiring two years ago, but he said he didn’t like retirement.

“If there is a job without a heavy physical requirement, I’ll go for it,” Liu said. “I can earn money while keeping busy. It’s good.”

According to a report this year by the Center for an Urban Future, an independent, nonpartisan policy organization, the number of New York state residents over 65 increased 26 percent over the last decade. Seniors are the fastest-growing segment of the state’s population. 

In Flushing, the elderly residents account for 17.5 percent of the population, whereas across the city, that number is 13 percent. But most of the Flushing’s seniors are Chinese. Some are even new immigrants. They are facing challenges in language, culture and finances. 

“To be honest, it’s really hard to find a job for new senior immigrants who cannot speak English,” said Penny Shen, a senior coordinator at the Chinese-American Planning Council (CPC) in Flushing, who is responsible for the organization’s Senior Community Service Employment Program. “The possibility of finding jobs depends on applicants’ abilities, but English is a primary obstacle. It might be too late for them to learn English.” 

Many seniors in Flushing cannot find regular office jobs because of the language barrier. Many senior men work in restaurants working as kitchen helpers or dishwashers. Some senior women work as home-care workers for Chinese families in Flushing. None of those jobs require English. 

Shen also said one-third of seniors who ask CPC to help with job-hunting are struggling financially.

“I don’t plan to retire so far. The living expense in Flushing, especially the housing rent is too expensive. I’ll keep working when I’m still healthy,” said Zhaoyue Sun, 62, a cook at North Restaurant in Flushing since 1995.