Golden Years Dim For Growing Numbers Of Aging Poor

January 6, 2012 § 1 Comment

If you’re poor or ever have been you know that costs others may take for granted loom and finding aid takes time, patience, and good searching skills. Many places that help require quick action and personal appearances for intake interviews. It’s a challenge for most people but for those with physical limitations, problems with memory or no transportation it’s daunting and aid can go unfound and unclaimed. That’s part of why late 2011 news announcing that 1 in 6 seniors may be poor is so troublesome. How many of those elders aren’t finding advocates who can help? I hate to imagine.

Any senior who faces the hardships of poverty is a tragedy. Old age has many natural hardships and poverty just compounds an already challenging stage of life. Prior to new Census analysis, using the Supplemental Poverty Measure, it was believed that 9% of the senior population lived that tragedy. But the more sophisticated analysis that takes into account things like the cost of medicine found that nearly 16% of our older population are struggling at the poverty line.  

“My health insurance has asked for a raise. I am having $313.00 taken out of my Social Security check now. When you take that away from $900.00 you don’t have much to pay for the rent,” writes a woman in Maryland. “I’m on Social Security disability and I am raising two grandchildren. I don’t have custody of them and I draw no extra money for help. We are living from one pay check to paycheck and still do without,” writes another. They’re two of more than 4,000 elders who contributed their story of economic hardship at One Away in order to help Congress understand financial crisis in old age and the necessity of financial supports.

Struggling seniors are members of America’s invisible community so you may not realize that, in 2010, 3.5 million lived BELOW the poverty line. Feeding America found that even if there was some money to buy food older people often had trouble accessing groceries because of health and transportation problems. Older people also have SNAP (food stamps) cards less often even though they meet eligibility criteria.

Add homelessness to the list of woes in old age. Jobs, houses, and retirement savings lost in the recession are hard to overcome in later years. Though homelessness hasn’t historically been an aging issue The National Alliance to End Homelessness anticipates a 33% rise in aging people without homes between 2010 and 2020 caused by pressures such as: financial collapse, job loss, mental health challenges, discontinued or inadequate public assistance, relationship problems, physical problems and illness or disagreements with family or friends offering shelter.

Streetlife isn’t meant for anyone but it’s especially hard on elders. In San Diego county in 2009 25% of the transitional housing population were 51+ and 28% of the local emergency shelters were over 51.   Homeless advocates view 50 as old in terms of homelessness. Many people living on the street don’t reach 62 and living outside will progress aging significantly.

Life is not getting easier or mellower for a shockingly significant percent of the aging population.You can help by contacting elected officials about saving benefits for older people and protecting Medicare and Social Security which are often the only sources of income and health protection people have. Take good care of parents, grandparents and aging relatives. If your neighbor is aging check in occasionally to see what may be needed. Aging isn’t easy. Aging with worry and financial stress is hard. Your care and support won’t solve poverty but can make someone’s life more tolerable.

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