UMass Boston Gerontology Professor Jan Mutchler has spent many years collecting and analyzing data about the economic security of seniors in Massachusetts and across the nation. She painted a detailed picture of the challenges facing the state’s elder residents in testimony before the Governor’s Council to Address Aging in Massachusetts.
“Across many projects, involving thousands of Massachusetts seniors, we have learned that their most common concerns about aging in place are financial,” Mutchler told the council on Sept. 7.
“Massachusetts seniors worry that they cannot afford to stay in their homes and communities because the cost of living is high and their incomes are flat or declining,” she said. “And that worry spills over into concerns about maintaining their health, continuing to participate in the things they enjoy doing in their community, and retaining their independence.”
Mutchler described the specific circumstances Massachusetts seniors face by using the Elder Economic Security Standard Index, calculated and managed at the Gerontology Institute’s Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging.
A few of the index numbers: About 25 percent of elder couples in Massachusetts live “in the gap” – reporting income above federal poverty levels but not enough to pay for basic living expenses. About 44 percent of single seniors in Massachusetts are living in that gap. The percentages of elders living in the gap are even higher for women as well as ethnic and racial minorities.
The economic circumstances for Massachusetts seniors depend significantly on where they live. For example, the cost of living for a single renter in good health range from $24,408 a year in Hampden County to $32,496 on Nantucket.
Mutcher told the council many older adults respond to economic insecurity in ways that place them at risk, such as declining to seek medical care or putting off necessary maintenance on their homes.
She encouraged strategies that could help older adults with financial pressure in later life, such as improving opportunities to work longer or use their homes or other assets to generate income.
Mutchler also suggested strategies that would help older adults reduce their expenses. They could range from reducing property taxes to expanding options for downsizing that older adults can afford and reducing the cost of medical care.
She also suggested the council consider strategies to strengthen state and local programs providing older adults with non-cash support, such as housing subsidies and fuel assistance.
“All of these strategies could be helpful, but only if older adults know about available options,” said Mutchler. “Many older adults just don’t have the information that they need to participate in effectively closing the gap between resources and expenses. So adequately and accurately communicating about these options is essential.”
The governor’s council was created in April to develop a plan to promote healthy aging in Massachsuetts and develop a plan to make the Commonweath the most age-friendly state for people of all ages. Gov. Charles Baker selected UMass Boston Gerontology Associate Professor Elizabeth Dugan as one of the members to serve on the council.
“We will identify problems, gaps in services, opportunities and the best practices to support health aging and provide the governor with a plan on how to move forward,” said Dugan. “Being able to learn from exceptional leaders in the field, like Jan Mutchler, is critical to the success of the effort.”