Windows-Live-Writer-Seniors-struggle-financially_BF66-financial_insecurity_thumbToday’s news stories speak volumes. Seniors struggle to make ends meet . . . more elderly find they can’t afford not to work . . . baby boomers are forced to support parents.

A growing number of seniors are struggling financially. Forced to choose between meals and medications, homeowners insurance and healthcare, or cable and paid care—in Ventura County alone, a whopping 39 percent of seniors don’t have enough retirement income to adequately meet their basic needs, according to the Elder Index.

I think most of us know that the difference between the poverty level and the true cost of basic needs in California is dramatic.

Federal poverty guidelines for a single senior renter in Ventura County is approximately $12,000 in gross annual income, and for a senior couple with a mortgage, that level is under $16,000. But according to the Elder Index, established in 2010 by the UCLA Center for Community Economic Development, the real cost of living for a single senior renter is $24,000 and for a senior couple with a mortgage, that number is $39,000.

The Elder Index was created to measure the cost of basic expenses for residents age 65 and older, and includes costs for housing, food, medical care and transportation. The index sets a more realistic benchmark for the income required to meet a senior’s basic needs and maintain their independence in our community.

Why are so many seniors, especially those 85 and older, economically challenged? I think the answer is that they never saw this coming.

Seniors age 85 and up were born at a time when two-thirds of families earned less than $2,500 a year. Most male seniors in that age group were encouraged to retire at 65; most women never worked outside the home, and now these couples have lived 20 to 30 years with only their retirement income.

The recent financial downturn has decreased their investment savings and reduced their home equity. Costs for healthcare have risen dramatically, in part because seniors are living longer with more chronic health conditions.

This generation, who was schooled in being thrifty, could never have predicted that their modest retirement income would need to serve them for 20, 30 and sometimes 40 years under these conditions. The average Social Security payment today is $14,760. It is higher for a man than a woman because many women did not work outside the home. Today women age 85 and older outnumber men by 2 to 1.

According to studies, a large percentage of women 85 and older—even those few fortunate enough to have a pension in addition to Social Security—cannot meet their expenses if they rent or own a home with a mortgage.

Public programs are supposed to help low-income seniors, male or female, but a large percentage of seniors fall through the cracks because these programs only kick in when income falls below the federal poverty guideline.

There are some programs in place to help seniors in need that have incomes above the poverty guidelines.

Ventura County’s Area Agency on Aging provides funds to local communities for senior nutrition, housing and health. The City of Thousand Oaks provides block grants to fund local agency programs, and nonprofits like Senior Concerns and others provide needed services for free or at low cost. But these programs only address a small percentage of those in need.

There are two cautionary tales to this story.

The world has changed and will continue to change. A large number of seniors who want to remain independent are struggling financially. We as a community need to help with programs that address their personal and financial challenges, while preserving a seniors’ dignity.

And for boomers, cultural and economic shifts will also likely become our inherited challenge. The good news is that we have a bit more leeway to prepare for our later years.

The question, will we?


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