Elder Index at Work: Defending Property Tax-Relief Programs for Older Homeowners in New Jersey

multigeneration portraitThis article is one in a series of stories about how people across the country are using the Elder Index to understand the true cost of living for older adults and its economic implications. If you know someone who would like to receive information about these stories, send us a note at gerontologyinstitute@umb.edu.

Late this spring, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy faced a big problem that was all too familiar to other governors across America. The staggering economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic had created a state budget crisis, with unemployment soaring and new annual revenue projections falling billions of dollars short.

Murphy approached the problem by moving back the start of New Jersey’s next fiscal year from July to October and passing a three-month stop-gap budget to tide the state over. Included in the short-term budget: Cuts to two important property tax-relief programs that help older adults in New Jersey afford to remain in their homes.

This was no small detail. New Jersey homeowners pay the nation’s highest property tax rates, about twice the U.S. average. Nearly 580,000 homeowners benefitted from one of the  programs under the axe and 158,000 others took advantage of the other. Both programs primarily benefitted older homeowners and the combined impact of the cuts was expected to exceed $480 million.

Melissa Chalker, executive director of the New Jersey Foundation For Aging, understood all that. Along with AARP New Jersey and other advocates, Chalker immediately launched a campaign to convince the governor and state legislators to restore the critical programs. One of her key tools in advocacy calls and letters: The Elder Index. Continue reading

UMass Boston Report Finds Far Greater Rates of Economic Insecurity Among Older Adults of Color

Jan MutchlerThe challenging goal of elder economic security – having enough income to live independently and afford a no-frills budget in later life —  is dramatically more difficult for older adults of color across America, new research from the University of Massachusetts Boston shows.

Half of all older adults living alone and 23 percent of older couples are unable to achieve that goal and live with some degree of economic insecurity, according to the McCormack Graduate School’s Gerontology Institute. A new report calculating racial disparities within those numbers shows rates of economic insecurity among Black, Latino and Asian older adults far exceeding those of white adults and the overall national average.

The report also details the economic insecurity levels of older adults of color in individual states and the states in which racial disparities are greatest.

“Economic security is a serious problem for older adults across the United States,” said professor Jan Mutchler, the lead author of the UMass Boston report. “But the situation is much more dire among older adults of color and the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has almost certainly made their economic circumstances even worse.” Continue reading

Economic Hardship From COVID-19 Will Hit Minority Seniors the Most

This article first appeared over the summer on The Conversation website. Marc Cohen is co-director of the LeadingAge LTSS Center @UMass Boston. Jane Tavares is a research fellow at the center.

By Marc Cohen and Jane Tavares

For Americans 60 and older, COVID-19 is widespread and deadly. Its economic impact could also be devastating.

With a recession fast developing, much of the attention on the downturn focuses on working-age adults, but many older Americans – with less time to make up for financial losses – will suffer the most.

I am a clinical professor of gerontology. My co-author is a research fellow in gerontology. We believe that recent history, specifically the Great Recession of 2008-09, will demonstrate what’s at stake. Continue reading

Gerontology Institute teams with CANALA for Project to Improve Economic Opportunities for Older People of Color

Caitlin CoyleAARP Foundation has awarded a grant to the Gerontology Institute at the University of Massachusetts Boston for a two-year project to increase access to economic opportunities for older people of color in the greater Boston area.

The $288,000 grant will fund the project that builds on the institute’s age-friendly work across the state, particularly the Age Friendly Boston Initiative, and its expertise in economic security issues in later life.

“We’re very excited because this project addresses economic security, a crucial need facing older adults,” said Caitlin Coyle, a research fellow at the institute and lead researcher on the project.

“It begins to answer a question we have encountered in a number of age-friendly community initiatives,” she said. “The question is, from a practical perspective, how do we build the capacity for authentic equity and inclusion?”

The project will be a joint effort by the institute’s Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging and CANALA, a research collaboration of UMass Boston’s Institute for Asian American Studies, the Institute for New England Native American Studies, The Mauricio Gaston Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy, and the William Monroe Trotter Institute for the Study of Black Culture. Continue reading

Journal Special Edition Dedicated to COVID-19 and Older Adults: Lessons From the Pandemic

Edward Alan Miller

Editor-in-chief Edward Alan Miller

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on older adults around the world has been nothing short of breathtaking. Like any sudden crisis, it begs a few common questions: What actually happened and how did we respond? What lessons should we take from that experience? And, most importantly, what do we do now?

In a special double-issue of the Journal of Aging and Social Policy, dedicated to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, leading gerontology researchers tackle those questions from a wide range of perspectives. The issue, Older Adults and COVID-19: Implications for Aging Policy and Practice, offers 28 scholarly articles available online free of charge.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated populations and economies globally but older adults have been particularly hard hit, due both to direct exposure to the virus itself and to the adverse consequences of efforts taken to mitigate its effects,” said Edward Alan Miller, a University of Massachusetts Boston gerontology professor and JASP’s editor-in-chief. Continue reading

COAs and COVID-19: Managing New Issues on Communications, Food Security and Volunteerism

Bread in Bridgwater

Among many volunteers, a retired Bridgwater State University professor baked bread for distribution through his local COA.

The Gerontology Institute’s Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging is publishing a series of blog posts to follow the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Councils on Aging across Massachusetts.  We encourage COA readers to tell us about their experiences or responses to blog posts by using the reply box at the bottom of each post.

It’s a good thing Zoom and lots of other communications technology exists these days. But the old-fashioned telephone is also playing important role in the plans councils on aging are following to keep in touch with their elder residents.

In Bridgewater, the Fire Department is assisting to help identify phone numbers from census data for over 5,000 residents who are age 60 or older. Those numbers are being used to make wellness calls, but also develop a huge database for town’s emergency response protocol.

In Billerica, volunteers are making about 150 calls each week to check in with elder residents and evaluate their needs.

“During calls to check on patrons, they are so grateful to be remembered,” said Billerica COA Director Jean Bushnell. “It was remarkable to discover that care and concerned flowed both ways, they were actually worried about our staff.” Continue reading

How Healthy Aging Data Report Can Contribute to Fight Against COVID-19 in Massachusetts

Beth Dugan, Nina Silverstein, Chae Man Lee

Left to right, associate professor Elizabeth Dugan, professor Nina Silverstein and post-doctoral assistant Chae Man Lee.

A research team at the McCormack Graduate School’s Gerontology Institute published its most recent edition of the Massachusetts Healthy Aging Data Report late in 2018. The report provided detailed information on the health status of older adults across the state. The team, led by associate professor Elizabeth Dugan, also collected a massive amount of local data contained in the report’s 379 separate community profiles.

The Gerontology Institute Blog recently spoke with Dugan and two other team members — professor Nina Silverstein and post-doctoral assistant Chae Man (Jay) Lee — about the report and how it could contribute to the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s what they had to say: Continue reading

PAC Case Study: Defending Retiree After Pension Plan Sent Her $37,000 Bill for Error it Made Long Ago

The Gerontology Institute’s Pension Action Center is part of the McCormack Graduate School at UMass Boston. It provides free legal assistance to low- and moderate-income workers, retirees and their survivors in the six New England states and Illinois whose pension benefits have been wrongfully denied. This is one in an occasional series of posts about cases the center pursues on behalf of its clients.

 Pensions are supposed to provide modest but regular income to help retirees make ends meet. Imagine a pension plan that instead sends a beneficiary an unexpected bill for $37,000.

This actually happened to “Sue,” a Pension Action Center client from Bridgeview, Ill. The plan in question said it made a mistake long ago and, as a result, had been paying her too much for years. It wanted to settle the matter by cutting off all her payments in the future, starting immediately.

The PAC helpline has been receiving an increasing number of calls from clients like Sue dealing with pension plan “recoupments.” In those cases, pension plans seek to correct their own miscalculations by demanding repayment from unsuspecting beneficiaries. Continue reading

Study to Examine Impact of Casino Gambling Among Older Adults in Surrounding Communities

It’s an established fact that older adults make up a large percentage of patrons at gambling casinos operating across the United States. But are older people more likely to be problem-gamblers? And what is the impact of casinos on nearby communities?

Questions like these have recently gained particular relevance in Massachusetts. The Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville became the state’s first commercial gaming establishment in 2015. MGM opened the state’s first Las Vegas-style resort casino in Springfield last year. Most recently, Wynn Resort Casinos opened the Encore Boston Harbor resort and casino in Everett this summer.

A new study by gerontologists at the University of Massachusetts Boston, along with the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling, is examining the impact of a casino on older adults living within a short drive from the attraction. The research, funded by the Massachusetts Gambling Commission, is focused on 15 communities surrounding Plainridge Park.

“The goal of this project is to provide a full picture of how the casino impacts the lives of older residents in surrounding communities,” said Caitlin Coyle, a research fellow at UMass Boston’s Gerontology Institute. Continue reading

Institute Talk: A Conversation About Retirement Insecurity with Katherine Newman

Katherine Newman, the interim chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Boston, has devoted much of her career to documenting conditions facing poor and working-class Americans. Her new book, Downhill From Here, Retirement Insecurity in the Age of Inequality, examines the perilous state of retirement in the United States. Gerontology Institute Director Len Fishman recently talked with Newman about the dangers facing the pension system, Social Security and other forms of economic support for Americans as they grow older. The following is an edited version of their conversation.

 Len Fishman: Your book reads in part like a post-mortem of the defined benefit pension system. Defined benefits provide a fixed pre-established benefit for employees at retirement, usually based on length of service and salary. They hit their high-water mark in 1980 and then plummeted. What happened?

Katherine Newman: Union density began to decline sharply at the same point. The defined benefit pension system is very much a creature of the collective bargaining power of unions. That’s why defined benefit systems tended to exist mainly where there were unionized workers. And as union density slipped — in part because of deregulation and industry competition – the strength behind the defined benefits began to shrink. Today, a very small minority of Americans have what we would call true pensions – 401(k) plans are definitely not pensions in terms of security and employer responsibility for investment. Continue reading