While soaring inflation and higher costs of living have impacted Americans everywhere, estimates from the University of Massachusetts-Boston’s Elder Index reveal how older residents are faring.
Under federal poverty guidelines, more than half of older women who live alone are categorized as poor or have incomes that cannot sustain essentials, while 45% of single men are in the same boat.
The 2021 average poverty guideline, which can be used to determine eligibility for some federal programs, is $12,880 for a single American, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
Totals are slightly higher for those living in Alaska and Hawaii.
Calculated by county, state, and nationally, the Elder Index uses several public databases to determine the cost of health care, housing, food, transportation and miscellaneous expenses for seniors.
It represents a tight budget and is adjusted for whether elderly adults live alone or with someone else, as well as their health condition. It also takes into account whether they rent or own homes, with or without a mortgage.
Data from the index showed that in 2020, more than 2 million older couples were deemed financially insecure based on their annual income.
"The poverty rate just doesn't cut it as a realistic look at the struggles older adults are having," William Arnone, chief executive officer of the National Academy of Social Insurance, told Kaiser Health News. "The Elder Index is a reality check."
This spring, University of Massachusetts researchers determined that Social Security benefits only cover part of older adults’ basic living expenses: 68% for a senior in good health who lives alone and pays rent and 81% for an older couple with the same circumstances.
"There's a myth that Social Security and Medicare miraculously take care of all of people's needs in older age," Ramsey Alwin, president and chief executive of the National Council on Aging told Kaiser Health News. "The reality is they don't, and far too many people are one crisis away from economic insecurity."
The COVID-19 pandemic also caused the highest unemployment rates for people 55 and older in nearly 50 years.
The majority of older Americans consider healthcare costs a financial burden, despite those over the age of 65 being eligible for Medicare, data from June revealed. The strain on government-sponsored health insurance will only continue to increase, as baby boomers — which are projected to include approximately 77 million people by 2030 — age.
The Equity in Aging Collaborative is planning to use insights from the index's data to create a dialogue about "the true cost of aging in America" and push for policies that aid older adults, such as property tax relief and expanded eligibility for medical expense assistance programs.
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