Gerontology Institute Report Finds High Levels of Elder Economic Insecurity in Massachusetts

Massachusetts is home to the nation’s highest percentage of older adults living alone who are unable to afford basic necessities without extra assistance, according to new research from UMass Boston’s Gerontology Institute.

About 62 percent of adults age 65 and older in Massachusetts are unable to afford the cost of a no-frills lifestyle that pays for basics such as food, housing, health care and transportation, according to a new report, Insecurity in the States 2019.

About 35 percent of Massachusetts elder couples living in two-person households are unable to afford their basic cost of living without assistance, the third highest rate in the nation, the report found. Only Vermont and New York had higher rates for older couples living independently.

“Clearly many older Massachusetts residents are economically insecure,” said Jan Mutchler, director of the institute’s Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging. “This is a serious problem everywhere in the state, affecting older adults in urban, suburban and rural areas. But older people living alone face the greatest risk in every setting.”

The Insecurity in the States 2019 report collected expense information from UMass Boston’s 2019 Elder Index™, a free online tool that can calculate the cost of elder living in every U.S. county and state. It combines cost information specific to people age 65 and over with corresponding income data to calculate the elder economic “insecurity rate” both nationally and on a state-by-state basis.

The report measures the percentage of people who fall below the Federal Poverty Level and those who live “in the gap,” with income that exceeds the FPL but is insufficient to cover the realistic cost of living in each state. Combined, those two groups represent the percentage of older adults living in economic insecurity.

Among older Massachusetts residents living alone, 18 percent fell below the poverty guideline and 44 percent more were living in the gap. Five percent of elder Massachusetts couples living in two-person households had incomes placing them below the poverty guideline and 25 percent more were in the economic gap.

Another new Gerontology Institute report, Insecurity in Massachusetts 2019, again used the Elder Index to illustrate the range of living expenses for older residents depending on the county of their residence.

The cost of living for elder singles renting their homes was $33,048 per year statewide. But county-by-county annual calculations ranged from $26,016 in Hampden County to $38,112 in Norfolk County.

The statewide cost of living for older Massachusetts couples who also rent in two-person households was $45,252 and county figures ranged from $37,956 in Hampden County to $49,968 in Norfolk County.

The report also calculated the rate of elder economic insecurity in seven geographic areas of Massachusetts. Among older adults living alone, metropolitan Boston had the highest rate of economic insecurity at 63.7 percent. It was followed by Bristol County (60.7 percent), Dukes and Nantucket Counties (60.1 percent), Worcester County (59.6 percent), metropolitan Springfield (55.4 percent), Berkshire County (51.5 percent) and Barnstable County (50 percent).

Among elder couples in two-person households, the rate of economic insecurity was highest in Bristol County at 36.2 percent. It was followed by metropolitan Boston (28.7 percent), metropolitan Springfield (28.3 percent), Worcester County (28.2 percent), Dukes and Nantucket Counties (27.9 percent), Berkshire County (25.6 percent) and Barnstable County (21.5 percent).

Elder economic insecurity rates in Boston, detailed in a Gerontology Institute fact sheet, were significantly higher in the city of Boston. About 34 percent of older single adults fell below the Federal Poverty Level and an additional 40 percent had income that still fell below their basic cost of living.

Single older adults renting in Boston had an annual cost of living of $37,063 to cover basics. The cost of living for elder couples was $48,122.

“As the older population grows, policy experts and government officials must learn to recognize the economy security gap and those who fall into it,” said Mutchler. “They need to evaluate the extent to which polices contribute to the economic security of older adults, both those living below the poverty line and those living in the gap.”

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