September is Healthy Aging Month. To help raise awareness we are featuring a two part series that focuses on the unique challenges aging adults in the US face, and initiatives that support them in living healthy, active lives.
Did you know roughly 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 everyday? Did you know, currently, more than 25 million of them live at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty level? While millions had good jobs where they could save and invest in 401(k) plans, others impacted by job loss, the financial crisis, or other circumstances find themselves relying solely on Social Security- which on average, is $1,262 a month. That wouldn’t even cover rent in some of the US’s coastal cities.
Budgeting on this amount when you have the added expense of food, transportation, and medical bills, the “Golden Years” of retirement become anything but, for millions. With nearly 1 in 10 seniors (aged 65+) living in poverty it can be a challenge to get by just day to day.
Below is a map showing poverty levels among senior citizens in Pittsburgh, PA- one of America’s most senior-dominated cities.
The struggles associated with poverty are felt in every corner of the US, but for seniors, it’s a unique struggle in a country built around the young and mobile.
Lack of transportation
Transportation is one of those overlooked issues for seniors. For many of us, we simply get in our car or hop on a bike when we want to go somewhere. For seniors it’s not that easy- and often comes at an additional cost. Seniors on a fixed income must not only keep up with the cost of rising housing, medical costs, and food, but also the cost that comes with not having your own transportation.
Many seniors don’t want to feel like they are a burden so often forgo asking friends and relatives for a ride; others simply can’t afford the bus fare or live in areas where bus schedules are limited or nonexistent.
For those with frequent medical appointments it’s a costly inconvenience that can affect their health. Which is why it is good to see how some hospitals are coming up with innovative ways to make sure their patients don’t miss an appointment by partnering with Uber and Lyft.
Rising cost of rent
We all know housing costs are rising across the board- for everyone. The lack of affordable housing impacts everyone from single parents working two to three part-time jobs to older adults.
Most seniors spend 35 percent of their income on housing. If they are just living on government benefits like Social Security, their housing is likely taking up at least 40 percent of their income (30 percent is generally the recommended threshold). This isn’t necessarily adequate housing either. In some housing units living conditions could be overcrowded, in need of serious maintenance, and/or lack plumbing.
For aging seniors in need of assistance with daily activities, options are grossly limited as well. Assisted living facilities aren’t always a viable option due to the expense- averaging more than $3,000/month. Fortunately, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development has counselors that help seniors explore housing options, whether it’s continuing to live at home, finding approved housing units, or learning how to protect against housing discrimination.
Health care costs
With the senior population growing- expected to number more than 87 million by 2050- health care will become even more impacted than it is now. Because most seniors are eligible for Medicare, and some for Medicaid, the government pays for most of seniors’ medical expenses.
However, out-of-pocket costs are still high for seniors. To put in perspective, it’s estimated that a 65 year old couple retiring in 2013 would need to save $240,000 to cover future medical expenses– not including long-term care. Premiums, deductibles, co-pays, out-of-pocket prescription drugs, and non covered items like hearing aids and glasses are calculated into that cost. And on average, Medicare beneficiaries spend 15 percent of their household income on health care costs, that’s three times more than non Medicare households.
Access to nutritional foods
Food insecurity is a serious issue among seniors. Seventeen percent of Feeding America’s clients are seniors. And in the US nearly 5.5 million seniors are food insecure, 1.2 million of them live alone.
Most seniors report that the greatest benefit of aging is having more time to spend with loved ones. Still, there are challenges millions of seniors contend with on a daily basis, which is why it is all the more important to focus on what we can do at the local level, together and as individuals. Through the MetLife Foundation, communities all around the country are reimagining ways to not only keep seniors mentally and physically healthy, but also strengthen their connection to the community- which is key.
It’s a strategy that fits into the overall movement of transforming the places we live, work, and play into vibrant, connected communities where we consider the needs of all our citizens, from kids walking to school to young and middle-aged adults biking to work to enabling seniors’ ability to get to medical appointments or activities around town.
Stay-tuned for our upcoming “Aging in the US Part 2” post that will feature initiatives from around the country that are supporting aging adults in living healthy, active lives.