Holes in the Safety Net: Social Security and the True Cost of Living for Seniors

Older Americans in every part of the country depend on Social Security benefits to help make ends meet. But just how far do those payments go toward covering the basic cost of living?

The answer varies a great deal on the personal circumstances of individuals. But it also depends significantly upon where seniors live, according to Jan Mutchler, a UMass Boston professor who leads the Gerontology Institute’s Center for Social & Demographic Research on Aging.

This is an important economic issue for seniors because Social Security provides such a large portion of total income for most beneficiaries. A third of those beneficiaries receive 90 percent of their income from Social Security. Three of every five depend on the benefit for at least half of their income.

Mutchler analyzed U.S. data on expenses and Social Security payments to determine the percentage of living costs covered by those benefits on a county by county basis. Along with co-authors Yang Li and Ping Xu, she recently published the findings in the Journal of Aging & Social Policy. Continue reading

UMass Gerontology Students Selected as Capstone Award Winners

By Taryn Hojlo

Two gerontology students researching a multi-generational approach to community senior centers and property tax relief programs for older homeowners have been selected for the 2018 Capstone awards.

Students Beth Duggan Rouleau and Norma Strack were selected by a committee from the Management of Aging Services Program at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School. Each year, two Capstone papers are selected based on their demonstration of outstanding research in various topics concerning elder care, including policy development and program management. Continue reading

Dr. Shuangshuang Wang, Gerontology Graduate, Thanks Her Village at McCormack

By Saadia Ahmad

The first time that Dr. Shuangshuang Wang learned of the gerontology field was from a professor in college who mentioned that while there are many researchers interested in child development, far fewer are focused on the development of older adults. She enrolled in a class on human aging and discovered an interest in care-giving and marital relationships in the later stages of life. From that point forward, she began thinking about how to improve life quality at the larger stage of human development and found the Gerontology PhD program at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School.

That was seven years ago. Last month, Wang graduated with a doctoral degree in gerontology and with the Gerontology Book Award, presented to a graduating student who has demonstrated excellence across both coursework and dissertation work. Continue reading

Better Tools Needed to Evaluate Health Care Consumer Engagement Strategies

Consumer engagement has become a health care priority, but it is difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of strategies and organization-level plans developed to achieve that goal.

In a recent blog post for Community Catalyst’s Center for Consumer Engagement in Health Innovation, authors Marc Cohen, Erin McGaffigan and Danielle Skenadore argue that “consumer engagement” itself is a term of art and can mean many different things.

“While the concept appears to have many supporters, how [it] is defined and applied in practice is much less clear,” they wrote. “Moreover, evidence-based strategies for successfully engaging consumers that are linked to clearly articulated and specific outcomes are few and far between.” Continue reading

Boston Residents Graduate as First Class of New Senior Civic Academy

Cindy Bui

Cindy Bui, a PhD student, is a member of the UMass Boston Gerontology team working on the Senior Academy project.

Want seniors to become more engaged in their communities and speak up effectively on issues that matter to them? Cities and towns can help by teaching their older residents some important skills and providing practical information.

Case in point: The city of Boston recently graduated the first class of its Senior Civic Academy. The class of 25 students over age 50 live in neighborhoods across Boston. They completed a 28-hour curriculum including aging policy, advocacy training and meetings with local, state and federal administrators and elected officials. Continue reading

Pension Action Center Forms Joint Venture to Support Counseling for Illinois Retirees

The Pension Action Center at UMass Boston and the Center for Disability & Elder Law in Chicago have formed a new joint venture to promote and support free pension counseling services to Illinois retirees whose pension benefits have been wrongfully denied.

The collaboration is intended to improve education and outreach that will increase the number of clients served in Illinois. It will also increase philanthropic support for the pension-counseling program in the state. Continue reading

UMass Boston Gerontology Alums Present Plan to Improve Social Security Safety Net

By Meghan Hendricksen

Many older Americans, some of them disabled, badly need the support of a Social Security system they contributed to for most of their working lives. Often, that system does not provide nearly enough.

Kimberly Johnson

Kimberly Johnson

Elizabeth Johns








Two gerontology alumnae of the McCormack Graduate School have ideas about how to address that challenge. Kimberly Johnson and Elizabeth Johns, among the winners of an AARP competition seeking new ways to improve Social Security, presented their plan recently as the final spring semester guests of the UMass Boston gerontology speakers series. Continue reading

LTSS Center Co-Director Marc Cohen Presents at Symposium Honoring Joshua Wiener

Marc Cohen appearing at a symposium to honor the late Joshua Wiener.

Marc Cohen went back a long way with Josh Wiener.

For decades, they debated the substance and detail of one of the most pressing social and economic challenges of our times – how to pay for the long-term services and supports increasing numbers of older Americans depend upon. Cohen, now co-director of the LeadingAge LTSS Center @UMass Boston, was one of more than a dozen experts speaking last week at a Washington symposium to honor Wiener, a leading figure in the field who died in January. Cohen’s comments begin about 48 minutes into a video of the entire event. Continue reading

Academic Life: 3 New UMass Boston Gerontology PhDs on Their Dissertation Experiences

By Meghan Hendricksen

Successfully completing the UMass Boston gerontology PhD program is like ending a journey.  A very long journey.

Just ask Ian Livingston, Jane Taveres or ShuangShuang Wang. All three recently defended their dissertations successfully. The Gerontology Institute blog talked with the newly minted UMass Boston PhDs about their experiences — from the original development of their dissertation topic to its eventual defense and how the work positions them for the future. Here’s what they had to say.

Q: Was the topic you chose for your dissertation in the area of interest you had coming into the Gerontology program?

Ian Livingston: It was not. My original interests and the topic of my dissertation were very different, but I was not surprised by that. My dissertation looks at the effects of physical therapists and occupational therapists on quality of care in nursing homes, but my original interests were linked to health behaviors and their association with different outcomes for older adults.

Coming into the program I had a sense of what I wanted to do, but that changed quickly even after just the first year. As a student, you’re exposed to so many broad aging-related topics, many of which are very interesting. My dissertation topic must have changed five or six different times before I even finished my qualifying exam. My recommendation to future students who already have dissertation ideas is to always be open to new ideas or different ways to approach a topic. You may be surprised how a topic that is completely different from your original interests may be the area you become most interested in.

Jane Taveres: Yes, my dissertation topic was closely related to a general area of interest I had coming into the Gerontology program. I have always had an interest in exploring how social relationships impact health. Much of my research has focused on this topic while I have been in our gerontology program. My faculty mentor, Jeff Burr, was also interested in this area of research and we worked together from my very first day, so I was able to really dig pretty deeply into this topic area over the course of my time in the program.

Shuangshuang Wang: Yes but more specific. When I first came into the program I was interested in broadly inter-generational relations and marital relations in later life. And when I was discussing with my dissertation chair about possible dissertation topics she suggested that maybe grandchild care and grandparents’ marital quality is a good one, which interested me as well. Continue reading

Transportation: The Senior Issue That Impacts All Others

You can’t get there from here (and back again).

Many seniors who want to go places and do things that most people consider routine might say that. Transportation challenges – from simple availability to special needs – can make it difficult to shop, attend events or make appointments. The ability to reliability get from one place to another when needed is essential for everyone.

“To me, transportation and the larger sense of community mobility is a critical issue that we as gerontologists need to be concerned about because it impacts everything,” said Nina Silverstein, a professor at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School. Continue reading