Millions of elder Americans struggle to keep up with the cost of food, clothing and other basics while remaining independent in their own homes. The challenge among older adults to pay for essentials is especially serious for women, racial and ethnic minorities and the oldest seniors.
New national estimates by the Gerontology Institute at the McCormack Graduate School of the University of Massachusetts Boston detail specific economic risks among elders based on gender, race, ethnicity and age. Using the 2016 Elder Economic Security Standard Index, they track the income and calculated expenses of one- and two-person senior households across the country.
“These new reports highlight the disparity in economic insecurity among key segments of the older population,” said Jan Mutchler, director of the institute’s Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging. “The challenges faced by so many seniors across America are especially serious among older seniors, single women and racial and ethnic minority seniors.”
Among the new findings, 57 percent of elder women living alone did not have sufficient income to meet basic expenses, compared with 46 percent of elder men living alone and 27 percent of older adults living in two-senior households.
The estimates also showed 74 percent of single older Hispanics fell below the Elder Economic Security Standard, compared with 67 percent of African American, 61 percent of Asian and 50 percent of white single seniors. The level of economic insecurity among Hispanic couples living in two-senior households (51 percent) was twice as high as that for white couples (25 percent).
The risk of economic insecurity also rises among older adults as they age. Nationally, 46 percent of those aged 65 to 74 and living alone had annual incomes below the Elder Index. Among adults 75 to 84, the risk of economic insecurity increases to 57 percent and reaches 59 percent among those who are 85 or older. The risk of economic insecurity is considerably lower among older adults living as couples, but they also face greater financial challenges as they grow older.
Another report focused on Boston seniors found a higher percentage of single women facing economic insecurity compared with single men in the state and women nationwide. About 72 percent of those Boston women did not have sufficient income to meet expenses, higher than 61 percent of men and 41 percent of senior couples living in the state.
The latest findings are a follow-up to Insecurity in the States 2016, a comprehensive institute report that tracked the economic challenges of seniors across the country. It found 53 percent of all people over 65 and living alone nationwide fell below the Elder Economic Security Standard, as did one of every five older couples.
“These estimates identify at least 10 million adults age 65 or older across the country who are struggling just to make ends meet,” said Mutchler. “They are facing serious financial challenges to live in their own homes and remain in their communities as they grow older.”
The Elder Economic Security Standard Index, developed by the Gerontology Institute and Wider Opportunities for Women, is maintained through a partnership between the institute and the National Council on Aging. Calculated for every county in the United States, the Index incorporates expenses for housing, food, transportation, health care and basic household items including clothing, a telephone, hygiene and cleaning supplies. The Elder Index is a basic budget that allows no vacations, restaurant meals, savings, large purchases, gifts or entertainment.